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Beekeeper Newsletter – April 14, 2006

2006 Almond Crop
The first official (subjective) crop estimate (by the Almond Board) is due May 10. Current estimates are for closed to a billion pound crop (slightly higher than 2005). Almond prices have dropped precipitously from their highs of $3+/lb last year to the current price of $1.60/lb (up from $1.40 a few weeks ago). A number of handlers are still trying to collect from buyers that agreed to purchase almonds at record high prices last year but, before paying, are trying to renegotiate their agreements based on current prices.

2007 Almond Pollination
High almond pollination prices have been a major topic of discussion among almond growers and at grower meetings. The word “gouging” has been used in these discussions. Some growers are buying an interest in bee operations. Blue Diamond is considering offering a bee colony inspection service for their growers; other growers will be hiring independent inspectors (as some did this year).

Our bee inspection program is to assure colony strength for both beekeepers and growers. If you think our quality-control program is harsh, try going up against an inspector hired by the almond grower. Here’s something I’m proud of: in over 30 years of business we’ve never had a beekeeper contest our colony evaluation once he has looked at the colonies with our inspector (and we give beekeepers every opportunity to contest our evaluation). I’d like to take credit for this, but the credit goes to our 2 main inspectors, Bill Mathewson and Neil Trent. Both are conscientious and do not take their job lightly; they realize they are taking $ from beekeepers on the rare occasions when they find sub-par bees. They take ample time (sometimes inspecting 100% of a load) before downgrading a load of bees. If a grower complains about colony strength (or bee activity) and we feel the colonies are up to standards, we will fight (and have fought) to the end to protect your interests.

For 2007, there are already beekeepers offering thousands of colonies at $100 and a bit more. In this kind of environment it will be difficult for us to raise prices, but we still plan on doing so. Our next newsletter (in May) will confirm 2007 prices and remind you that if you don’t cancel your current agreement by June 1st, it will remain in effect for the 2007 season.

Who is Bob Harrison and Why Doesn’t He Like Me?
After reading Bob Harrison’s April ABJ article on 2006 almond pollination and exchanging e-mails with him I am wondering what I did to offend him, either in this life or a past one. Mr. Harrison approached me in February for material for his article — apparently he didn’t like my information, or maybe I’m too sensitive on this. Here are some quotes from his e-mails – - you decide: “I consider him [Joe Traynor] a crook”
“Joe T. is feeding you [Jerry Brown] a line of BS”. “I stand by my article and will provide more dirt on Joe T.” “I play hardball!” and finally “beekeepers are upset and wanting blood. I am willing to toss Joe T. to them.”

Apparently Mr. Harrison is suffering from dangerously high levels of testosterone (or maybe he’s been hanging out with Mike Tyson).

At any rate, if you disagree with Mr. Harrison’s article, and if you have time, both the ABJ and Mr. Harrison would like to hear from you (Harrison’s contact information heads his article). If you concur with Mr. Harrison’s remarks, I know he (and the ABJ; but esp. Harrison) would love to hear from you, however I realize this is a very busy time for all beekeepers, so don’t feel like you have to take the time to do this.

Telling It Like It Is
I always have mixed feeling when someone writes better than I do, but it happens frequently – - see Randy Oliver’s Letter to the Editor in the April ABJ for a current example. Randy sums up the 2006 almond pollination season far better than Harrison (or I) and in far fewer words. (Note: I don’t know and have never met Randy O. He never contacted me for any information for his letter nor did I provide any).

This year, some beekeepers (including, apparently, Bob Harrison) were surprised and shocked that almond growers would have the temerity, the unmitigated gall, the outrageous arrogance, the sheer nerve, the unalloyed audacity to actually hire someone to look inside the hives they rented and to assess bee populations therein, esp. when few growers did so in 2005.

Say you order a 4 lb package of bees and when it arrives there are only 4 ounces. You contact the supplier to complain and he tells you that this is one of the roughest years ever for package bees, that he was forced to cut down on the package size for everyone, that In-transit losses were unusually high this year and that you are very lucky to get what you did get. Would you pay the 4 lb price for the 4 oz package?

Mite Treatments
Beekeepers get much of their information on mite control by word or mouth and at meetings – - “_______ works great”, “_________ didn’t work for me.” “Be careful with ______”. Some beekeepers swear by a certain treatment, others swear at it. Both Oxalic acid and Formic acid have mixed reviews, some love Oxalic (or Formic) some hate it. The same can be said for many other chemicals used for mite control.

A large number of variables affect the efficacy of a given treatment regime. Researchers have a difficult time controlling these variables; beekeepers have an even tougher time. Some of the variables are given below.

The amount of brood in a colony (and the stages of brood) is probably the single most important factor affecting mite treatment efficacy (this is not new; you know this). Other factors are temperature, humidity, time of day, bee flight, size of cluster, size of entrance opening, top or bottom entrance, leaks in the boxes, dose, location of chemical in the hive, length of fogger “squirt” (3 seconds or 10 seconds?), size of fogger particles, follow-up treatments and interval between treatments. I’m sure you can think of many other variables.

There have been recent glowing reports on Apiguard, however a 1991 Canadian study (by Matilla and Otis) concluded that:

Efficacy against varroa mites was moderately good [varroa populations were reduced by 77%], but well below what is required to reduce their populations to levels suitable for bee hive management.

Don’t give up on any chemical if it doesn’t work like you were led to believe. Find out why it wasn’t effective (what were the offending variables) and take steps to make it more effective. And always read label instructions.

Wayne Morris – Hall of Famer
Many of you know Wayne Morris as the Montana beekeeper who’s always hauling in top awards for his honey (and comb honey) at many different venues, including last year’s Apimondia. You may not know that Wayne established a solid reputation during his youth in California with the Future Farmers of America, where he also won multiple awards (including the Golden Eagle) both statewide and nationwide, including Agribusiness Man of the Year in 1971. Recently Wayne was inducted into California’s FFA Hall of Fame after receiving that rare and prestigious Blue and Gold award for California. Besides being a great guy, Wayne is also a topnotch beekeeper.

Way to go Wayne!

Thanks (again)
Keeping bee colonies in top shape during these times is harder than its ever been. I am continually impressed with the quality of colonies your deliver during these tough times. Believe me, I am well aware of the time and the sweat that it takes to deliver such colonies. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the job you do. Beekeepers have always been and always will be the backbone of our operation.
I am grateful.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.