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Beekeeper Newsletter – April 17, 2009

2009 Almond Crop
Expected to be about 1.3 billion lbs or down about 20% from last year’s record crop of 1.6 billion lbs. It wasn’t that long ago that a billion pound crop was considered exceptional.

Almond prices have held steady in recent weeks and are around $1.45/lb for Nonpareils (about 40% of state acreage) but below $1/lb for hardshell varieties which is below the break-even point for almond growers.

2010 Almond Pollination Prices
We are lowering out almond pollination price to both growers and beekeepers by $10/colony for 2010. If you wish to bring us bees, please notify us of the number you can bring by June 1st of this year.

The date we must notify you of how many colonies we will need is October 30, but we realize that you have to make plans well before that date, so we will give you a preliminary notification sometime in August as to our best estimate of what we will need from you.

We hope to maintain our numbers with both growers and beekeepers but with the current climate, one never knows. The combination of grower cutbacks on bees + more bees available (due to less CCD problems) caused beekeepers without contracts in December to cut prices; many of these bees were already were from the Dakotas and stockpiled on winter holding yards in California. Most or all of the good colonies (8+ frames) wound up getting placed, many at bargain prices. Substandard colonies were difficult or impossible to rent.

It’s a total guessing game as to what the supply-demand situation will be for 2010. One scenario has many beekeepers staying home and concentrating on honey production, thus lowering supply and putting upward pressure on pollination prices. Another scenario has more almond acreage being removed (mainly due to water shortages) and more growers cutting back on colonies/acre, thus reducing demand and putting downward pressure on prices. We have already been told by some of our growers that a $10/colony reduction in price is not enough – that they have been offered bees at considerably lower prices.

We have responded to these grower requests (to lower prices) thusly:

Although our minimum strength standard is 8 frames of bees, we almost always exceed this standard by a considerable amount as you have seen when you look at your bees with us. Our 8-frame standard is to insure that you continue to get strong colonies in a year when the general strength of colonies is poor.

Help us to maintain the truthfulness of this statement.

Those that continually supply us with an above-average product will be given preference when we determine the number of colonies we will need from individual suppliers.

If you get a feel later this summer that there will be an excess of bees for 2010 almonds, consider leaving some home and consider not making fall divides, as many of you do.

Viruses
Viruses are a hot topic in beekeeping nowadays (and look for iridovirus in the coming months). I tend to agree with those that say to take care of the basics – mite control, nosema control and nutrition – and don’t worry about viruses because there’s not much you can do about them anyway. But all knowledge is good and pinning down specific viruses increases our knowledge base. In line with this, consider sending bee samples to David Wick in Montana for virus detection (send samples from “good” and “bad” bees, if possible). Sampling and shipping instructions can be obtained from Dr. Wick at mrwick@bvs-inc.us or call (406)359-4214.

Addressing Water Problems
You’ve all heard about California’s drought. Much of the water shortages, esp. those on the Westside, are due to a “regulatory drought”. Billions of gallons of water go to the Pacific (rather than to farms) to “save” the Delta smelt (a small endangered fish). The science behind this water diversion is questionable (many other causes have been proposed for the demise of the smelt). Consider writing your congressperson on this; and Governor Schwartznegger on building more storage dams in California.

Read it and Reap
Randy Oliver has a great bee article in the April ABJ. And look for his article on pesticides in the May ABJ.

The 6-Day Weather Cycle
Old-time weatherman, Harry Giese (now retired) always proposed that weather patterns occurred in 6-day cycles. Savvy beekeepers use this knowledge to order their queens at weekly intervals (to be sure they get at least some that were mated in good weather).

Stay in Touch
We’ll be getting another Newsletter out in May. In the meantime, call us anytime for how things are going on our end.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.