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Beekeeper Newsletter – March 22, 2013

2013 Almond Crop

Excellent bloom weather offset the many weak colonies (not yours, but others) in almond orchards throughout the state. The crop on the Nonpareil variety (about a third of the state acreage) is a bit spotty, esp. in Kern County, but overall, almond growers should get another big crop. With almond prices holding at close to $3/pound, all growers should do quite well.

Double Standard

Several of you have rightfully pointed out that 3 large Kern County almond growers are far easier on colony inspections than we are. No one (except one person this year) has ever said that our inspections weren’t fair but that some growers wait until petal fall to evaluate colonies, a huge advantage to beekeepers since colonies can increase by 2 to 4 frames in strength from 1st bloom to petal fall. We hope to get all growers on the same page on this.

Mystery Bee Kills

We’ve experienced several recent bee kills in the past 2 weeks but have been unable to pin down a cause. Let us know if you’re affected.

2014 Almond Pollination

Pollination fees will increase. We’ll let you know by May what ours will be. The bee shortage this year has created much talk of $200 bees next year, but if beekeepers that suffered significant losses this year are able to make up their numbers, there could well be a glut of bees for 2014 almonds. Every beekeeper in the U.S. has heard about $200 bees this year, and some might bring their bees to California without a contract as some did a few years back; tell them not to. The new almond plantings you see in our Valley this year won’t have an impact on bee demand for a couple of years.

Ron Spears – Good Guy

Some of you are aware of the contentious relationship between Ron Spears and me in recent years. When we were short on bees this year, Ron called me out of the blue and said he could supply 500 colonies. I swallowed hard and took him up on it. Ron could have easily rented these bees elsewhere, but he helped me out big-time. Thanks, Ron!

$32 Million for Research

Washington state fruit growers stepped up and assessed themselves (on a tonnage basis) to provide $32 million to Washington State U. for research. Adds David Eddy, Editor, Western Fruit Grower (March 2013): “The future of your industry looks pretty dim without an investment in research. Maybe you won’t feel the effects right away, but I’d be willing to bet that succeeding generations will. It’s time to put up, or shut up.”

$69 Thousand for Research

As you know, we collect $1/colony each from growers and beekeepers to fund bee research. We rented 34,862 colonies in 2012 and distributed the funds as follows:

Project ApisM: $51,000
Randy Oliver: $10,000
USDA Texas Bee Lab: $8,130 (labor)

You’re covered for the colonies you rent through us, but consider donating $1/col. for other colonies you rent. And, if you or your friends rent bees to Paramount Farming, your research donation will be matched by Paramount.

We will be making a donation again this year based on 34,626 colonies rented (would have been more, but we ran out of bees). Government funding of research is becoming a thing of the past. All ag commodities are taking steps to fund research. Are you helping?

Shafter Research Station

The USDA Bee Lab in Weslaco, TX has shut down. Frank Eischen and co-workers (Henry Graham, Raul Rivera) have moved to the Bee Lab in Tucson, AZ. The Tucson area is bereft of agriculture and, with beekeepers depending on almond pollination to survive, it makes sense to move the Tucson Lab to Shafter…maybe too much sense to ever be implemented by the USDA.

Stamp Out Corn

You may have noticed the colorful flowers on the stamp that came with this letter (for those that get the electronic form of this newsletter imagine a pastoral setting with miles and miles of pink and yellow flowers.). The stamps are a tribute to the memory of LBJ (Ladybird Johnson) and her Highway Beautification Act of 1965. The government sowed wildflower seeds along the nation’s highways, remnants of which can still be seen today. Bees worked these roadside flowers and did quite well if a speeding car didn’t ruin their day. Word is that there may (or may not) be a bee-forage stamp in the works. In the meantime, purchase and use the LBJ stamps.

Roundup Ready Alfalfa

There’s no truth to the recent rumor that Monsanto is requiring growers of Roundup Ready alfalfa to cut their hay before 10% bloom (preferably before any bloom). Jerry Hayes set me straight on this: cutting restrictions apply only in alfalfa seed growing areas, a relatively small acreage. The vast majority of alfalfa acreage will be unaffected. RR alfalfa has been around for at least two years, and growers are happy with it.

Roundup and Bugs, Birds, Cats and Insecticides

There are lots less bugs and birds than there used to be. I remember driving Hwy 99 from one end of our Valley to the other and making regular stops to clean the bugs off the windshield; you’d see bug deflectors on the hoods of many cars.…you don’t see them anymore. Not quite a Silent Spring scenario, but things are definitely different today than 50 years ago. This was before neonics, so they can’t be blamed (or credited). Some feel that the elimination of roadside weeds by Roundup eliminated a bug refuge. Since insects make up a major portion of the diet of birds, fewer insect-harboring plants would reduce bird populations. A recent study estimated that bird predation by cats amounts to 1.2 to 3.7 billion birds annually in the U.S. Sounds a bit high –figure how many birds in your community it would take to reach 2 billion birds nationwide; and where are all the bird carcasses? There’s no question that things are different now than they were 50 years ago and that these differences may be having an impact on bees. How big a role neonicotinoid insecticides play in current bee problems is still an open question. For a thorough and nuanced discussion of neonics, check out Randy Oliver’s site www.scientificbeekeeping.com; go to his publications list and click on the 2012 ABJ articles devoted to neonics.

I’m Sitting Next to Malcolm

From Malcolm Sanford’s March 16 APIS Newsletter: “I continue to sit on the fence on this topic [neonicotinoid insecticides] – it is sooo complex.”

Nutra-Bee

We’ve plugged it before, but Keith Jarrett’s Nutra-Bee feed mix has given great results to a number of successful beekeepers, Check it out on-line (esp. the video) or call (916)205-2400 or (209)223-9616.

The Multi-Floral Myth

We’ve all heard it: Honey bee colonies don’t do well on a mono-culture diet, but require pollen from many different flower sources in order to maintain optimum health.

Turns out that bees do quite nicely on two major pollen sources for U.S. beekeepers: almond pollen in the spring (California) and canola pollen in the summer (N. Dakota, and a few other states). If you caught Frank Eischen’s presentations at the recent bee meetings you couldn’t help being impressed with his tables showing that bees did significantly better on a diet of straight almond pollen than on any other feed mix. Frank has kept bees healthy year-round at his Texas bee lab with almond pollen as the sole protein supplement. And here’s Zac Huang on canola pollen: “Many studies have shown poly-floral pollen diets are superior to single species of pollen with perhaps one exception (rape seed [canola] pollen alone can be excellent).” p. 176 in August 2010 American Bee Journal.

Bees wouldn’t be expected to do nearly as well on a diet of sunflower or blueberry pollen (both have a low protein content). It’s fortuitous (or serendipitous) that what are probably the two best pollen sources out there are major pollen sources for commercial U.S. beekeepers.

Another CA-ND Connection

California and N. Dakota are joined at the hip as bee states, now there’s another connection: The U.S. Energy Department estimates that CA could hold up to 64% of U.S. shale oil deposits.

Be Informed at Bee Informed

Check out www.beeinformed.org and their Emergency Response Kits (ERK s).

Apivar Amitraz Safer than Taktic Amitraz?

The new Apivar strips (with amitraz at the active ingredient) will be easier on bees than Taktic (with the same a.i.) because Taktic was designed to control ticks and mites on cattle and penetrants were added to improve access to target pests. These additives can cause Amitraz to “penetrate the bee cuticle” which “can result in increased mortality to mites but potentially to bees as well.” Bee Culture November 2012, pp. 25-29.

Good Excuse Not to Quit Drinking

From the September 2012 Harpers Index: Average number of eggs a bedbug will lay after feeding on “clean” human blood: 44. On blood with an alcohol content of 0.10: 12.

Physics Experiment

Fill a glass to the brim with water, then add ice cubes; the water will spill over, flooding your kitchen (or workbench); some environmental wackos say the same thing will happen to coastal cities when Arctic icebergs complete their current calving-melting cycle.

And, from p. 7 in the 10/1/12 issue of The Nation (left-wing rag): “When white ice is replaced by dark seawater, more of the sun’s heat is absorbed rather than reflected, accelerating global warming. The loss of Arctic ice is the ‘equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man’ Peter Wadhams, a Cambridge professor of ocean physics, told the BBC.” (yeah, but what do Englishmen know?!). “If current emission trends continue, global temperatures will increase by nearly 11 degrees (F) by 2100, warns the International Energy Agency. ‘Even schoolchildren know this will have catastrophic implications’ said the IEA’s chief economist Fatih Birol.” And, as the permafrost is oxidized, tons of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) will be released, further exacerbating the situation. But 2100? 2100??? Who cares?!

Dueling Summits

Two high-profile bee-health meetings will be held this summer: On August 14-17, Penn State will host the second International Conference on Pollinator Biology, Health and Policy (see www.ento.psu.edu) and on June 11-13, Monsanto will partner with Project ApisM to host a similar agenda in St. Louis; Jerry Hayes (aka The Answer Man) is putting a program together; details should be available soon.

Primer on Creating Terrorists

You probably wouldn’t like it if a surgeon opened you up to remove a cyst, but tore your whole body apart in the process, yet many applaud the surgical drone strikes against key Alqueda members, feeling that when the last of these terrorists has been eliminated, America will be safe from future attacks. Unfortunately, there is collateral damage (euphemism for innocent bystanders getting killed and maimed); friends and relatives of this damage are prime candidates for the next generation of terrorists (the “whack a mole” syndrome) potentially giving a tenfold or more increase in the terrorist pool. The last big upsurge in terrorist recruitment occurred during the Iraq debacle. (from The Terrorist Recruitment Handbook, available at your local Alqueda bookstore.

And Iraq, 10 years later? According to Iraq expert, Ann Garrels “Iraq is a time bomb, waiting to explode again.” (NPR, 3/17/13).

The Contortionists

It’s really quite amusing to see Republicans twist themselves into knots trying to justify their past remarks on immigration as they attempt to woo the Latino votes that are essential for them to remain a viable party. And the Dems, trying to justify Obama’s current policies (drones, Guantanamo, rendition) that they would condemn under a Republican administration.

New Hope for America’s Image Abroad

“I want to be anywhere in the world that I’m needed” Dennis Rodman, after visiting N. Korea.

The China Syndrome

Sales to China are the primary reason for the current robust ag commodity prices, esp. almonds. China currently has a housing bubble — see the March 3 segment of 60 Minutes (available online) — a crash could have a ripple effect on all ag commodities.

U.S. Manuka Honey

Manuka honey is prized for its anti-microbial properties, which exceed those of other honeys. According to Alan Harman “The native Manuka trees now are being grown in the United Kingdom, Australia and North America with the aim of cashing in on the high prices received for ‘active’ manuka honey in the global nutraceutical market.” Bee Culture October, 2012, p.78. Remember that there are different Manuka strains, identified by their UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) number the higher the number the more potent the strain (against microbes) and the higher the market value for the honey.

Priorities Change with Time

California budget:

2001-2002: UC 3.3 billion, Prisons: 4.6 billion
2011-2012: UC: 2.3 billion, Prisons: 9.8 billion

As fewer young people attend college (because they can’t afford it) less money will be needed for UC – and potential UC students could well wind up in prisons, thereby justifying further increases in the prison budget. It’s really quite “neat” how this plays out! “Elegant” is the term used in the scientific community for a particularly satisfying solution!

1st Annual Nut Festival – Kern County – June 14-15 (Bakersfield)

Kern County is the leading almond and pistachio producer in California so a Nut Festival here is both appropriate and overdue. Check the Nut Festival website for more info. The South Valley Bee Club (SVBC) will have a booth at the Festival.

Ever notice how one or two individuals in an organization do the bulk of the work? In this case, Max Eggman got the bee-booth-ball rolling. Max is probably the senior member of the SVBC but has more energy than the younger members like myself!

9th Annual Fresno Film Festival, April 19-21, Fresno, CA

The German documentary bee film More than Honey will be shown at the Fresno Festival (tentatively scheduled for Sunday, April 21, but check the FFF site for exact time and date). The film features spectacular footage of a queen mating event. Like most European bee films, this one will likely blame pesticides for current bee problems so, if you agree, this film should re-enforce your views.

Thanks! – To Those of You Who Supplied Us With Bees

Your extra-ordinary efforts in supplying strong bee colonies under difficult circumstances this year are noted and appreciated. You may not have received top-dollar for your bees this year, but knowing that you belong to an elite group of beekeepers that supplies bees to an elite group of growers is worth more than a few extra dollars ………I think.

See you next month,

Joe Traynor