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Beekeeper Newsletter – September 24, 2009

2010 Almond Pollination
Although we retained over 90% of our growers, we will be renting about 30% less colonies than we did this year. Our largest growers cut his order in half; another large grower dropped us. As a result, as of this time, we will need about 30% less bees from you in 2010 than we did this year.

We hope to use more bees from you if pollination prices firm up in the coming months.

Price-cutting by other bee suppliers has slowed as beekeepers become more aware of the costs of supplying strong colonies for almonds. Growers are quick to spread the word on cheap bees, but the strength of these cheap colonies is rarely mentioned.

Prices for almonds have increased and are close to $2/lb for the Nonpareil variety (about 40% of the state acreage). Prices for hardshell almonds are around $1/lb, well below the break-even point of $1.25/lb for growers. For the latest almond price info, see www.projectapism.org (courtesy of Dan Cummings).

Comments on Prices

Quality is in demand and always will be.

You have to charge what it takes to stay in business. If you find yourself forced to compete with someone else offering lower prices, realize that they might not be making enough of a profit to survive. You can’t end up being controlled by the guy who might not be here next year. If I also charge less, I might not be here either.

The above comments are from apple growers (August issue of American Fruit Grower)

Add this from John Miller (aka The Oracle):

You grow the finest almonds in the world. Can you afford to rent the cheapest bees?

And yes, you can substitute any other crop for almonds in the above.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town
You’ve likely heard that Gordon Wardell (of Megabee fame) is now Paramount Farming’s in-house bee man. Paramount’s quality control inspection of their bee colonies has improved in recent years, but can still be charitably be described as “less than rigorous”. Under Dr. Wardell’s supervision, look for things to tighten up (unless they don’t). If they do, look for Paramount to ratchet up the historically low prices they pay for almond bees.

Since assuming his position in July, Gordy had received numerous congratulatory calls from Paramount beekeepers and was unaware that he had so many friends in the bee business.

Dr. Wardell will be working on all phases of almond pollination and bee health (including Blue Orchard Bees). Paramount has always been generous in sharing information with the almond industry via numerous test plots. Gordy’s new position should benefit all beekeepers. Paramount is a first-class organization and its nice to see that they’re finally getting a first-class bee person.

You are what you eat

Life Span of Bees (D. Sammataro, et al)*


Hi-Fructose corn syrup 16 days
Sucrose solution 28 days
HFCS + Sucrose 22 days

*lab tests with caged bees; no protein

Bottle vs. Frame Feeders – Which is Best?
Frame feeders are easier to use than bottle feeders but have some disadvantages: dead bees (and mold) in frame feeders can serve as inoculum for diseases and toxins. Also, with the big supply of syrup in frame feeders, bees can plug out the brood nest. The steady drip from frame feeders reduces such problems.

Aspergillus Niger
Aspergillus niger is a common (black) mold, often seen on fruits and vegetables. Rob Manning (Australia) reports that A. niger:

was accidentally introduced in one of my sugar solutions available to bees in the cages and boy did it kill bees …. and quickly. It also left tell-tale signs of fecal streaking inside the cages which anyone with some knowledge of the effects of nosema would have said that was the cause. I read recently that this is the same microbe that comes to dominate the microbial soup in a hive after some chemical treatment for varroa. (Australasian Beekeeper, September 2009).

Aspergillus niger glucoamylase is an enzyme produced by A. niger. This enzyme is used to break down starch into sugar in the production of high-fructose corn syrup.

Degrees of Freedom
The bee industry is blessed with many dedicated scientists working to solve the many problems facing honey bees. Most have PhD degrees, some don’t. Among the notables that don’t are Sue Cobey, Jennifer Berry, Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Jim Bach, Randy Oliver, Jerrry Hayes and beekeeper/scientist Gilly Sherman. Not carrying the burden of a PhD allows more freedom in expressing ideas (a PhD suppresses such expression due to the fear of criticism from one’s peers).

Randy Oliver and Jerry Hayes, regular contributors to the ABJ are two of the best and most prolific writers on bees. Both do their homework before tackling a subject and both are “out there”, fearless in expressing their views on any bee subject. The occasional criticisms they get are quibbles that could be resolved in a face-to-face exchange. And would you rather be right 98% of the time on 1,000 efforts or 100% of the time on 3 efforts. Which is more productive?

Rising star, Kirsten Traynor (no relation, but nice name) also puts out good stuff – look for her honey-health book next year. Kirsten has been traveling the bee world with husband (and premiere photographer) Michael and is currently studying at Arizona State. Will Kirsten go for a PhD? (and will she stop writing if she does?).

Props for Propolis
You’ve read of the anti-microbial properties of propolis over the years, more so in recent years with Marla Spivak’s work on the subject. Maybe beekeepers should re-think their fondness for air-tight bee boxes, as the excess propolis that bees make and use to plug leaks in bee boxes could also protect them from harmful microbes (one of our better bee suppliers has leaky, propolis-laden supers). Feral colonies contain more propolis than managed colonies. In an interesting side not, propolis is being investigated as a cancer-fighting agent (do a search for Bio 30 Propolis).

Words of Wisdom
Cal Bears cornerback, Syd Quan Thompson, has the following tattooed on his forearm:

The biggest mistake in life is being afraid of making a mistake

All cornerbacks eventually make mistakes, and so do we. Almond growers and beekeepers regularly risk making mistakes, including the biggest risk of getting in the game in the first place. Some, including the Resnicks (Paramount Farming) and Murray Wise (Premiere Farms) are more fearless than us mere mortals and play the game on a larger scale. Add Dan Cummings and Ron Spears to that list.

New York Times Bee Blog
For an interesting discussion of bee problems do a search for: save the bees NY Times blog

Now, Everyone Knows
A comment I made on the NY Times blog (above) was critical of The Nature Conservancy (for banning honey bees from their vast land holdings). My comment drew this response from a Scott Simono:

Joe Traynor is blaming the Nature Conservancy for honey bee colony collapse? What a joke. How does someone like Traynor earn respect and trust? Probably by being a Republican.

Special Interest Rule (and always will)

If you’ve been following the health care debate, here are some interesting numbers re two of the major players. The health care and insurance industries gave $1.7 million to Max Baucus (Democrat) in 2008 and $3.5 million during his tenure. Charles Grassley (Republican) got $700,000 in 2008 and $2 million during his tenure. Sounds like a lot until you consider that a CEO of a health insurance company pulls in $24 million/year. Lobbyists in D.C. easily outnumber congressmen. Democrats and Republicans alike have no qualms about accepting special interest money.

Research $
This year we collected $2/colony for bee research, $1 from growers and $1 from us (actually from you), distributed as follows:

Project ApisM (1750 Dayton Rd., Chico, CA 95928 $51,000
WSU Colony Health Study, WSU Entomology Dept., 99164-63820 $20,000
Labor for Frank Eischen studies $2,400

Consider making a donation to research, if not to one of the above entities, then to your local, state or national organizations.

Paramount Farming will match any $1/colony research donation by any of their beekeepers. To date, few beekeepers have stepped up to the plate on this offer.

China and Canola

I was impressed when I learned that there are one million acres of canola in North Dakota. Then I learned that there are 17 million acres in China.

Geurt Lanphen Passes
Many of you knew our part-time bee inspector, Geurt Lanphen. Geurt was always upbeat and amazingly energetic for an 82-year old. Geurt was helpful to me as he forced me to step up my pace in order to keep up with him. All who knew him will miss Geurt greatly.

The Wager
We plan to make the following offer to prospective almond clients:

We will go with you to look at our colonies on any of our ranches and will pay you $5/colony for any colony less than 8 frames if you will do the same with the bees on your ranch with your bee supplier with the $5/colony going to us. Time limit, one hour or a $100 cap (time up after 20 substandard colonies are found).

Based on the quality of the colonies you bring us, I feel confident with this wager.

The Last Beekeeper – DVD.
You may have seen the new documentary The Last Beekeeper that was recently shown on the Planet Green channel. It follows three struggling beekeepers as they journey from their home states to California almonds. Current problems with bees are well covered in graphic detail and the DVD serves as an antidote to the claims of some growers that beekeepers have it easy. We plan to get some DVDs to give to growers. For ordering information, contact Mona Card at World of Wonder, (323)603-6300, ext. 421.

Bending over a Dollar to Pick up a Nickel
Beekeepers from the northern states are well aware that if they bring bees to California too early (in October) the bees will suffer as they age rapidly with non-productive flights. Truckers often charge a $300-$400 premium for loads hauled in November-December, but as one beekeeper pointed out, it only takes 2 or 3 almond hives to cover that premium and that culling 10% of the bees from a Nov-Dec load beats the heck out of culling 40% from an October load.

California Bee Convention – November 17-19, San Diego
See www.californiastatebeekeepers.com

Stay in Touch
Call us anytime for an update on how you and your bees are doing.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.