We are making a $2.00/colony price increase to almond growers for the 2004 almond pollination season and passing this $2.00 increase on to beekeepers. This is the first time we have made a price increase in two consecutive years.
There was definitely a shortage of bees for almonds this year, with a few growers scrambling for bees in February. All growers got bees (to my knowledge) but many of the late boxes contained sparse populations. Will there be a shortage of bees again in 2004? We won’t know until January, but in my opinion there won’t be a shortage because a number of California (and out-of-state) beekeepers are increasing colony numbers for what they see is a ready almond pollination market. These beekeepers could be bumping heads with each other in signing up almond growers. On the other hand, there could well be another bee shortage next year – if such turns out to be the case, please destroy this newsletter so I can deny I ever predicted otherwise.
Almonds – A Bright Spot for Ag (and beekeepers)
The current almond crop is estimated at 920 million pounds (down from last year’s record 1.1 billion pounds) yet almond prices remain good. You’ve heard about depressed prices for almost all ag commodities due to global competition. Almonds are an exception because almond’s rigid climate requirement reduces global competition. A healthy almond industry means almond growers will pay their bee bills (unlike some apple growers)
What do Grapes have to do with it?
Quite a bit, actually. As indicated in the enclosed reprint, California’s grape industry has big problems. Roughly 100,000 acres of grapes will be removed in the next 2 years. About 100,000 acres have been removed in recent years, the vines and stakes pushed into piles and burned (or chipped, or sold for firewood). A recent edict from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District bans the burning (or chipping) of chemically treated grape stakes (most stakes are treated with arsenic, creosote or other preservatives); treated stakes must be separated and hauled to a sanitary land fill. This rule has added about $1000/acre to disposal costs and caused some growers to abandon their vineyards.
Some of the old grape acreage will go into almonds, but you don’t see nearly as many new almond plantings this year as you did a few years ago. Nurseries that supply almond trees need at least a year lead time to fill orders and nurseries ran out of trees well before February this year. Some almond growers are also grape growers and when grapes are their dominant crop these growers sometimes have trouble paying their almond bills.
Memo to Sioux Bee (and others)
The state’s almond farmers have made such progress without federal subsidies in large part because of the bargaining clout of the Blue Diamond cooperative. About 4,000 of the state’s almond farmers bargain collectively for prices though the group.
Last May, Doug Youngdahl, chief executive of Blue Diamond in Modesto, succeeded in negotiating a price increase of 15 percent to 20 percent to $1.20 per pound by arguing that lower prices could force some growers out of the business, leading to higher prices in future years.
Youngdahl also made a threat, saying that if buyers didn’t agree to pay more, he and others in California would hold almonds off the market.
May 19, 2003
Health Promotion Increases Consumption
Ad campaigns promoting almonds as a healthy snack have boosted U.S. consumption by 57% (USDA). Almond growers pay 2.5¢/lb to the Almond Board for promotion (and research) vs. the relatively stingy 1¢/lb for honey (a similarily priced commodity) honey producers pay to the Honey Board (or Packer Importer Board).
Almond growers paid the same 2.5¢/lb when almond prices were 80¢/lb. Shouldn’t HB (or PIB) fees be tied to the price of honey at a given point in time each year? Surely honey producers could afford 2.5¢/lb this year.
Several years ago, a few almond growers sued to dismantle the Almond Board on freedom of speech issues and put the AB in limbo for a year or two. The AB has been back in business for several years. Apparently they made their program bulletproof (see enclosed editorial for more on industry funding).
The Iceland Experiment
The relatively tiny U.S. blueberry industry* is bucking the trend of commodity board dissolution. In 2002 they set up the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC; www.ushbc.org) and collected $1.2 million in assessments in their initial year. It is difficult to evaluate the benefits of promotional programs, but the USHBC may have found a way: they targeted Iceland, an island with roughly 300,000 inhabitants and advertised heavily in local newspapers, stressing the health benefits of blueberries. The result was a significant spike in blueberry consumption in Iceland.
*blueberries like honey, can be produced almost anywhere in the world
The demise of Larry Atkins (CA) a number of years ago and the recent early retirement of Dan Mayer (WA) has left a large void in bee-pesticide knowledge. With no input from bee-pesticide scientists, chemical companies have a free hand in writing bee warnings on pesticide labels. The International Bee Protection Group held a symposium in Italy last year (see Bee World 84:51-2, 2003). For a report, contact Dr. Claudio Porrini (Italy): email@example.com or Dr. Gavin Lewis (UK): firstname.lastname@example.org
If your bee organization representative visits D.C., ask him (her) to request funding for a bee-pesticide scientist.
A government sponsored crop insurance program (you’re paid for a honey crop failure) sounds good, but past experience should raise some red flags. The indemnity, program (for pesticide loss) 20+ years ago attracted fraudulent claims by beekeepers and was abandoned. I’ve
seen almond orchards (and vineyards) under crop insurance – many are rag-tag operations with minimal management inputs.
A crop insurance program for honey will result in dubious claims and will reduce beekeeper incentive to care for his bees. Better to put enough $ away in a good year (this year?) to cover losses in a bad year.
CA Beekeeper Association Website
www.californiabeekeepers.com. This year’s convention is at Lake Tahoe, Nov. 11-13.
” . . .the hypopharyngeal glands of the worker bees cannot produce larval food if bees are fed sugar syrup alone for prolonged periods of time.”
C. Peng, et al., J. Econ. Entom. 77:632-636 (1984)
Planning for 2004 Almonds
This year we delivered a 10+ frame average to our almond clients. Because our growers are paying a premium price, we recently told them that we will make every effort to give them 10+ frame colonies every year.
Your agreement with us is for 8-frame bees and will remain that way, but please sort out sub-standard colonies before delivery. Throwing in sub-standard colonies makes it difficult for us to maintain prices.
We are pleased that no beekeepers cancelled their agreements with us by the June 1st deadline and are extending the deadline to July 1, should you wish to cancel for the 2004 season. We do hope to work with you again in 2004. We will notify you by October 30 (or sooner) of the number of colonies we will need next year.
In the meantime, call us anytime to find out what’s going on here, or to give us an idea how you are doing.
– Joe Traynor
“The makers of corn flakes spend over 10% of the retail price to promote their product.”
American Fruit Grower, May 2003, p. 6
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