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Beekeeper Newlsetter – April 28, 2006

2007 Almond Pollination
After considerable thought, we are making a $20/colony increase in price for 2007 almond pollination. We are doing this in spite of an ample bee supply this year (see enclosed list of classified ads) and in spite of the fact that we (and you) will be targets for price-cutting beekeepers (one has already said he’d be happy with $72.50/colony for 50,000 colonies).

Beekeepers bringing bees to almonds are dividing into 2 camps: those that want to get paid high prices (over $125) for graded, strong (8+ frame) colonies and those that would be very happy with $70-$100 for field-run bees (4 frame minimum).

An eastern beekeeper called me last week and asked what would happen if he delivered bees to us that averaged only 6 frames; I told him that he’d get paid for 6/8ths of the bees. He thought for a bit and said he could live with that, how many did I need. Please don’t put in sub-standard bees and have us do the grading for you. I realize that no beekeeper can guarantee that every single hive will be 8+ frames (although some of you have come close) but don’t keep a 6-frame colony on the pallet just because there’s a 10-framer next to it.

We’ve educated our growers over the years that an 8-frame colony can collect up to 6 times as much almond pollen as a 4-frame colony. At current almond pollination prices, growers don’t like to see any weak colonies in their orchards; neither do we.

As almond pollination prices have risen, grower scrutiny of colony strength has increased. Growers took a harder look at colony strength this year than they ever have before. Growers no longer accept the word of beekeepers (“you’re getting my best hives”) but are bringing in independent inspectors — hired guns — to evaluate colony strength.

Any beekeeper taking bees to almonds should expect that someone will be evaluating them.

As you know, we inspect all loads delivered to us and on the whole, beekeepers consider our inspection program fair and unbiased (those that don’t, leave after a year). Evaluating bee colony strength can be subjective — when colonies fall into the 6 to 9 frame strength category you can send 4 different people out and come back with 4 different evaluations (6, 7, 8 or 9 frames). It is possible, even probable, that a grower’s “hired gun” will be harder on grading than we are. We offer every one of our growers the opportunity to look at the bees with us (this is our best sales tool). In spite of this, I anticipate that some of our growers will hire independent inspectors to look at your bees (two did this year). We will defend your interests to the fullest if our evaluation shows that your colonies met standards.

Your current pollination agreement with us remains in effect for 2007 (at 2007 prices) unless you cancel it by June 1, 2006. I hope you remain with us and it could be to your advantage to do so; as one sage put it, “sometimes its better to work with the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.”

Enclosed is a form for 2007 almond pollination. Please fill in the number of colonies you can bring and return the form to us at your earliest convenience. Please be conservative on the number of colonies — don’t over-commit; give yourself plenty of slack for fall-winter setbacks.

Aussie Bees
Anywhere from 40 to 80 thousand Aussie packages (3 and 4#) came in again this year. Growers again paid $100 and up for these packages. Aussie packages have set a floor (of $100) on almond pollination rentals. November-December Aussie packages might make 8 frames by February with proper care and feeding but they won’t right off the plane in February.

Aussie Trip
I’ll be leaving for Australia May 18 and will return May 30. The Aussies invited me to talk with some beekeepers and almond growers. I’m looking forward to the trip as I was told I’ll be getting an “appropriate welcome.”

Bob Harrison – Why He Doesn’t Like Me
Bob Harrison is a Missouri beekeeper who believes that 4+ frame bee colonies are good pollinating units for almonds. He doesn’t like me because I don’t agree with him.

WAS – July 24-27, Buellton, CA
Great program, including Bach, Eischen, Glenn, Mussen, Pankiw, Thorp, Traynor and Wenner. Call (805)688-3216 for a $60 room.

Supplemental Feed
Please add Feed-Bee (800)387-5292 to the list of feeds given in our March 10 newsletter. The complete list:

Feed sources*
Norm Cary – (559)562-0300
Feed-Bee – (800)387-5292
Global Patties – (866)948-6084
Pat Heitkam – (530)865-9562
Mann Lake – (800)880-7694

Pollen Sources
Walt Dahmer – (780)963-4281
Ernie Fuhr – (250)785-4808
Stakich, Inc. – (248)642-7023
Cathy Zou – (909)820-6669

*make sure pollen is irradiated.

If you want top-dollar for almond bees, you pretty much have to supplemental feed.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
Preparing for 2007 almonds starts now. Quoting from Randy Oliver (April ABJ):

My whole beekeeping year revolves arround one date — February 10th. You’re going to have to pump up your bees from August on so they winter with a big cluster of young bees, lots of late brood rearing, fat with pollen or supplement, plenty of honey. Most important, they can’t be compromised by mites during the last rounds of brood rearing or they will dwindle or collapse in January or February. Winter time is WAY too late to think about getting your bees ready for almonds; think August at the latest.

Art Haynes Passes
A heart attack struck down Art Haynes earlier this month. Art took over Charlie Reed’s outfit in the 70s and was one of the first to take So. California bees to almonds for top dollar ($3/col. in 1960!). Art sold his bees to Ron Spears and maintained a close relationship with Ron until the end. Art always had a positive outlook on life; always upbeat and always willing to help out a fellow beekeeper. A genuinely good guy.

Research $
As indicated before, we charged almond growers a $2/colony surcharge for bee research. We have collected almost all this money (over $82,000) and have allocated $7,250 to support Frank Eischen’s work and an additional $75,000 to the CSBA research fund to be used for research that will benefit almond growers (includes mite research). If you know beekeepers that received over $125/col. for almond bees this year and that rented all or most of their bees, ask them to consider donating $1/colony for bee research.

Comparing Apples and Oranges
Who says you can’t compare apples and oranges!?

Consider this: apples containing more seeds have a higher calcium content, are firmer and have a longer shelf life (seeds may also give high soluble solids). Now, if it can be shown that the same holds true for oranges (including Clementine mandarins) maybe Clementine growers will change their attitude towards bees (and beekeepers).

Not the Biggest
Some beekeepers seem to think we’re the biggest bee supplier (for almonds) out there. Not so. We rent about 40,000 colonies and don’t want to get much bigger.

In contrast, both Lyle Johnston and Brett Adee each rent 50,000+ colonies. I am somewhat in awe of these two gentlemen as both deliver a good product and both are directly involved in trucking the bees to the orchards.

Our goal has never been to be the biggest bee broker for almonds but it has always been to be the best. The only way we can attain this goal is to deal with the best beekeepers.

Joe Traynor