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Beekeeper Newsletter – July 15, 2009

Update – 2010 Almond Pollination
Although almost all of our growers have signed up for 2010, our largest client has cut back from 8,900 to 4,100 colonies. Many growers cut back by 1/2 colony/acre. The net result: at this time we will rent 20 to 25% less colonies in 2010.

We are still talking with several growers that have not yet signed up and with some new growers, so the picture may improve, but right now, make plans to deliver us about 25% fewer colonies in 2010 than you did this year.

I realize you have to make plans for 2010, so we are giving you a heads-up on the situation now. It makes no sense to go to a lot of expense to prepare almond colonies and then be unable to rent them, as happened to a number of beekeepers this past season.

If you’re from Montana or the Dakotas, plan on leaving some bees home, or killing them off (or selling blow bees) unless you have a firm commitment for them (from us or from someone else).

Call us before making a decision on this.

The Almond Situation
Almond acreage has peaked at 700,000 acres and will not exceed that figure for the foreseeable future. Acreage may decrease slightly as older orchards are removed. The large almond acreage on the west side is short of water which may (or may not) result in some of this acreage being pulled.

Prices for Nonpareil nuts (about 40% of the acreage) are holding around $1.40/lb, which is above the break-even point of around $1.25/lb. Prices for hardshell varieties are around $0.90/lb, well below the break-even point. Between rising costs and lower prices, almond growers are indeed hurting and it is understandable that they want to cut costs wherever they can. Our $10/colony price reduction was insufficient for many growers, but cutting more than this would compromise the quality of the product you deliver.

Beeconomics
Michael Burgett (Oregon State U.) compiles an annual Economic Survey for beekeepers. His current survey states that “the average hive maintenance cost was $178/colony” (in 2008). Annual pollination income was $154/col. which left “a net hive rental loss of $24.” Honey production can help offset this loss, but most beekeepers don’t count on it. Beekeepers that provide 8+ frame bees for almonds incur significantly higher supplemental feeding costs than the average beekeeper.

Wringing the Bell
Colony strength in every winter holding yard conforms to a typical bell-shaped curve, with weak colonies on the left, strong on the right and the majority in the middle hump of the bell.

You see this in your holding yards, I see it, every beekeeper sees it. Preparing for almond pollination requires constantly shifting the curve to the right (to the strongest colonies) which in turn requires considerable time and effort. I realize that you spend the requisite time and effort to give us the greatest number of colonies on the right-hand side of the curve (if you don’t, you don’t be bring bees to us).

Some of you have looked at almond colonies provided by other beekeepers and have asked us “how can beekeepers get away with this, Joe?” The answer is “because they have gotten away with it in the past”. With growers becoming more bee-wise, the number of beekeepers providing poor quality colonies (sometimes called “junk bees”) is diminishing.

Many of you have asked us “why can’t I bring a whole yard?” (or the whole bell, or the whole 9 yards) as many other beekeepers do — that you’d accept a significantly lower price if you didn’t have to grade, sort and cull your bees right up to delivery time. The answer is that we (including Bill Mathewson, Neil Trent and our field crew) don’t like to be embarrassed when we show your bees to our growers. Opening up a weak colony for a grower (and growers invariably ask us to pen a colony showing below-average flight) and the grower will rightfully ask (or imply): “you should be ashamed of charging top dollar for this.” Explaining to the grower that 2% loss of queens is normal when trucking bees and that his bees average in excess of 8+ frames helps, but it still rankles a grower when he sees a substandard colony, esp. in the current economic climate.

Being proud of the job you do ranks right up there with getting paid for your efforts. By supplying bees through us, you are part of an elite group – the proud, the few, the best.

September Song
Frank Eischen’s feeding studies show the importance of a September feeding:

Month FRAMES OF BEES
Feeding Started At Start End of January
September 6.8 8.4
October 6.3 8.0
November 6.1 6.7
December 7.0 6.3
January 6.8 5.6
Not fed (check) 6.3 5.3

(American Bee J. June 2009, p.587)

Of course, starting with 8 to 10 frames will give you those 10 to 12 frame colonies that our growers have come to expect from us.

Line up your feed early in order to give suppliers ample time to fill your order. Check with other beekeepers to get an idea as to which feeds work best. Most feed suppliers should give a healthy discount for semi-load orders, so consider joining with other beekeepers to fill out a semi with supplemental feed.

With apologies, following is a new take on an old song:

Oh, it’s a long, long time,
From May to December,
And you better start feeding
When you hit September

When the Autumn weather,
Turns the leaves to red,
Its way past time,
For your bees to get fed

When the bees dwindle down,
To a precious few,
In November,
December

And then in January,
You crack the lids,
You tell Eric Mussen,
“My bees have SIDS”

And you tell your almond grower,
“Hey, its not me,
Surely you’ve heard,
Its CCD.”

Apimondia and the Kefuss Offer
If you attend Apimondia, September 15-20, Montpelier, France (www.apimondia2009.com) noted beekeeper/breeder Dr. John Kefuss (Toulouse France) has an offer: one cent for every varrroa mite you can find in his hives. John hasn’t treated for varroa for 10 years.

Contact John at: jkefussbees@wanadoo.fr

Stay in Touch
Call us anytime for an update on the almond situation and to let us know how you and your bees are doing.

Joe Traynor