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Beekeeper Newsletter – April 12, 2013

2013 Almond Crop

The first crop estimate won’t be out until June, but right now this year’s almond crop looks very good. Beekeepers report that their hives gained more weight this year than they ever have before – 20 to 30 lbs of almond honey (from almond nectar) per hive, which translates to 40 to 60 lbs. of carbohydrates per acre removed from almond orchards. This brings up the question: would almond trees have benefited (would nutlet drop have been reduced) if all that sugar had remained in the orchard? Frank Eischen hopes to answer that question next year. Probably half or more of those petal-fall sprays you see being applied to almond orchards are nutrient sprays (or nutrients combined with fungicides) in an effort to reduce nutlet drop via optimum nutrition. Carbohydrates are nutrients – maybe more important nutrients than those currently being applied.

It was a struggle to get sufficient strong bee colonies to meet our almond grower commitments but we did it via a lot of horse-trading and cutting back some growers by 5% of their allotted number (which we are allowed to do under the terms of our contracts with them). As you are aware, there were a lot of weak colonies out there this year and where orchards with weak colonies were adjacent to ours, they benefited from your bees and will probably get decent yields and will feel there is no need to pay a premium price for strong colonies. Where you were next to such orchards, your bees should have heavied up more than they normally would; the downside is that they may have picked up “nasties” (varroa, nosema, viruses, foulbrood) from the weak (sick?) colonies next door. One beekeeper has likened bringing bees to California almonds as entering a large brothel. Make sure you clean up good and apply the proper medicines once you leave this brothel.

Paramount Steps Up (again)

Paramount Farming recently gave their beekeepers a $10/colony bonus for 2013 bees, bringing payment for their 12-frame colonies to $175/colony. This will have a ripple effect on all pollination fees state-wide as other growers base their price on what Paramount pays. Gordon Wardell has done a super job in bringing Paramount prices up to a living wage. Their inspection system still needs some fine-tuning as some beekeepers were inspected at first bloom, others at petal fall, with the latter getting a 2 to 4 frame increase during that roughly 2 week period. As you are aware, our standard is for 8+ frames at the start of bloom, and in most years we are well over that number.

$$$ for Research

As you know, $2/colony of our pollination fees ($1 each from growers/beekeepers) goes to bee research. Paramount has generously offered to match any research contributions from their beekeepers. If you received $175/col. from Paramount this year, consider kicking in a dollar for research (and ask other Paramount beekeepers to do the same). You can give to Project Apis M as many beekeepers do, or to your state organization (if you have a pet project, specify it).

2014 Pollination Fees

After considerable thought, and after talking with a number of you, we have decided to make a $15/colony price increase for 2014 (a $16 increase to growers, unlike our past 2 price increase, 100% of which have gone to beekeepers).

Some beekeepers will be holding out for $200 or more in 2014. Good luck to them as there could well be a glut of bees next year if beekeepers with problems this year make up their numbers. We could probably increase our 2014 price by more than $15 and it would be justified due to increased costs for varroa control and supplemental feeding but almond growers are also faced with increased costs across the board. The window for getting higher 2014 pollination fees is wide open right now since all almond growers are well aware of current bee problems. This window may close as the year progresses and the bee outlook improves, so sign up your other growers early. You could get hurt later on if the window slams shut on your fingers.

Your agreement with us remains in effect for 2014 unless you cancel by June 1. Please give careful thought if you want to remain with us for 2014 (and we hope you do). Please fill out and return the enclosed slip at your earliest convenience so that we can make plans for 2014.

Art Harris Steps Up (again)

Art Harris’ 2014 pollination prices are $210/col. to the grower and he has already signed up a Kern County grower for 432 colonies at that price. Look for his 2 bee ads in the current ABJ. It can again be said of Art that he is “out there”.

Eric + Kathy = A Great Resource

All beekeepers are aware of the super job that Eric Mussen has done over the years. In recent years, Kathy Keatley Garvey (also from UC, Davis) has done a great job in getting Eric’s stuff out to others, esp. to the ag community and esp. to almond growers. A combination of Kathy’s writing and her terrific photos (all publications love pictures) has done a great service for beekeepers. If you catch Science Friday on NPR you probably heard Eric’s virtuoso performance on April 5th discussing current bee problems (including, of course, CCD). Eric hit all the right notes and covered all the bases in a roughly 12-minute segment (and, no, he did not exonerate the neonics). To get a copy of the NPR program, e-mail Kathy at kegarvey@ucdavis.edu Consider sending a copy to your other growers and to media people. You likely get inquiries from the media, as we do, and with a flick of the finger you can send them Eric’s message to all, saving you, and others, much time (one comprehensive-unified message, like Eric’s, is less confusing than scattered thoughts/opinions).

Water Woes

After December storms raised Sierra sno-pak levels to 150% of normal, a record dry January-February lowered them to 50% of normal (and March didn’t help much, if any). As a result, there will be water cut-backs to California farmers and it will be another tough year for California beekeepers.

Good News

One of our growers cut back to ½ colony per acre (324 colonies on 650 acres of mature trees) and his crop looks good (great bees from Veronica and Stacy Magana likely played a part) pointing out to growers that paying more for strong colonies can cut per-acre pollination costs.

Bad News

If all almond growers cut back by ½ col./acre the demand for almond bees would drop sharply.

Worse News

A record 97 million acres of corn will be planted in the U.S. this year.

Better News

Thousands of acres of almonds are being planted that will require bees in a few years.

% Pollination vs. Final Yield

Frank Eischen has shown that more nuts are set at higher bee stocking rates (2 vs. 1 col./acre) but that hasn’t (yet) translated in higher per acre yields since many of those pollinated nuts don’t make it to harvest (the trees can’t hold them all).

Global Warming/Climate Change

After reading my March newsletter, a reader asked me if I was a Climate-Change denier. Maybe it wasn’t obvious that I was being sarcastic. For a great book, get The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm by James Napoli – hundreds of really funny definitions.

Here’s another piece on GW/CC from The Progressive magazine (April, p. 15): If we have to wait on Congress to tackle global warming, we’re cooked. House Republicans especially are dominated by the willfully ignorant who continue to deny climate science and by the shills who have been bought off by then carbon barons. “The polluting industries have Congress pretty much locked up” says Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI).

Don’t Get Out-Foxed

From a recent letter from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS): “A recent UCS analysis found that 93% of the references to climate science on Fox News were at best misleading, and often just plain wrong.”

Another Rumor Quashed

There is no truth to the rumor that watching Fox News over a year’s time will lower your IQ by 10 points (it’s only 5 points).

Shafter Station (continued)

The move to establish a bee presence at the Shafter Station (formerly the USDA Cotton Research Station) is moving at a glacial pace and is likely dead in the water for this year (“slim to none” is one insider’s view on the chances of the Tucson Lab being moved to Shafter this year). Having bee-almond researchers like Frank Eischen maintain a presence in Shafter is certainly doable. A little heat from beekeepers might help melt the current glacier. Write to Kevin Hackett, USDA-ARS, Room 4-2222, 5601 Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705 or e-mail Kevin at Kevin.hackett@ars.usda.gov

Cutting Government Waste

Sometime things make too much sense to ever be implemented by our government. Moving the Tucson Bee Lab to Shafter is a good example; here’s another: Let Medicare negotiate with drug companies on prices – to sign up, search Al Franken Medicare Petition. Drug company lobbyists, who outnumber congress by a huge margin, likely won’t let this one see the light of day, unless, unless, maybe, enough citizens, united, make enough noise.

Big Picture Stuff

World population is on track to increase by over 2 billion within 40 years. A new publication addresses the question: Can we feed this many? The short answer is yes. For a thorough answer, download Issue Paper 51 Food, Fuel and Plant Nutrient Use in the Future at the CAST site: www.cast-science.org/publications

A Good Cause

For the past 4 years, Bill Mares (past president EAS) and Dewey Caron (retired Delaware bee scientist) have been working on a project to teach beekeeping to coffee farmers in Central America – more for honey production than pollination. The goal is to supply supplemental income to farmers who get paid only once a year and often go hungry for 3 or 4 months. There is a name for this: Los Mesas flacos (the thin months). A film After the Harvest depicts this problem; check out http://aftertheharvestorg.blogspot.com/

The project is called Cafeymiel.org under the website of Food 4 Farmers, an NGO in Vermont, founded by Rick Peyser; http://food4farmers.org/beekeeping-in-latin-america/ The project has two levels: 1. An online resource, including a digital manual with illustrations and questions aimed at Co-ops who wish to explore beekeeping for supplemental income (in Spanish). 2. a discussion group aimed at co-ops that already produce honey and who might want to expand their knowledge in a discussion format. Current members (from 8 countries) include technicos from co-ops, academics who teach beekeeping in the region and members of NGOs with specific interests in beekeeping.

So far, Food 4 Farmers is working with around a dozen coffee co-ops comprising over 3,000 farmers. To donate, see their home page (above). For more info, contact Bill Mares: billmares@gmail.com

The Best Kept Secret

That the lack of Taktic availability was a major cause of this past winter’s bee problems. You’d never know it from media reports.

The Silent Majority?

Most beekeepers don’t believe that pesticides are the main cause of current problems.

Randy Oliver Recovering

Randy Oliver threw his back out while writing an article on neonics and trying not to offend beekeepers who recently signed a petition to ban them. Randy is almost fully recovered.

Just Wondering

If Monsanto’s patents are intellectual property does that mean you have to be an intellectual to work for Monsanto? (Jerry Hayes hasn’t gotten back to me on this). Along these lines, I accused one of our almond growers of being an intellectual after he made a particularly deep comment on current affairs; his response (which still makes me smile): “I’ve been called worse”. And further (along with G.W. Bush, so I’m in good company) I’ve been called an intellectual pygmy.

Correction (Nutra-Bee)

The correct (209) phone # for Keith Jarrett is 267-1710. Check out Keith’s Nutra-Bee online. It’s good (some say “great”) stuff.

Bee Film Features John Miller

The German film More than Honey will be shown at 1PM, April 21 (Sunday) at the Fresno Film Festival, Tower Theater, 815 E. Olive Ave. A trailer featuring John Miller, can be seen at the FFF website. John is quoted saying “I’m getting real comfortable with death on an epic scale” This quote was picked up by Fresno media and John recently assured jittery Fresno residents that he was referring to bees, not people.

Save the Date

The 1st annual nut festival will be held in Bakersfield on June 15. Bee there if you can.

We Want You and We Need You

Yes, there are opportunities to make big bucks on almond bee rentals next year, but maybe only if you act now, and, like Art Harris, act quickly. Better, maybe, to stay at home where you’re known and loved. Fill out the enclosed slip and send it back to us so that we can get on with business. We hope you stick with us. And we hope to have a good, if not great honey year.

 

Joe Traynor
joemtraynor@gmail.com