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Beekeeper Newsletter – September 28, 2004

SCIENTIFIC AG CO.
P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA 93303

Toll-free: (877)356-5846 & 896-5846

Office Located at:
1734 D Street, Suite #2
Bakersfield, California
24 hour phone: (661)327-2631
Email: jotraynor@aol.com

2004 Almond Crop and Grower Returns
The current almond crop will be close to a billion lbs, statewide. Over the last 2 months, almond prices have risen steadily for a number of reasons. A major reason is that a freeze in Mediterranean countries reduced both almond and other nut crops:

Spain’s almond crop is 30 million lbs (vs. 170 million lbs last year).

Turkey’s hazelnut crop dropped from 1.4 billion lbs to 600 million lbs (and prices rose from $1/lb to $2.85/lb).

Iran’s pistachio crop (sold mainly in Europe) is way down.
Also, unseasonable rain destroyed Brazil’s nut crop; the U.S. pecan crop is down 35-40% and pecan prices have doubled; Macademia nuts are going for $8.50/lb.

Prices of all nut crops are related. If the price of an individual nut gets too high, buyers switch to a cheaper nut. Disasters in other nut commodities left California almonds as the only game in town for many nut buyers and almond prices have climbed from $1.40 to as high as $2.30/lb. for Nonpareil-type nuts (other varieties are about 18¢ less).

At this time, there is no question that almond growers are doing well. Although much of the crop was sold for around $1.40 a pound before this summer’s price increase, growers statewide should average close to $2.00/lb.

This years ”perfect storm(s)” scenario is unlikely to be repeated in 2005 (or in any subsequent year) – this year’s spike in almond prices is likely a 1-year phenomenom. Only a few years ago almond prices were 80¢/lb and they could easily revert to that as more acreage comes on line.

Almond handlers like to attribute current high prices to superior promotion and salesmanship, but the reality is that Mother Nature trumped promotion this year. As lonq as I’ve been in this business, almond handlers have always painted an optimistic picture of the future of almonds and have urged growers to plant more almonds. A large almond crop makes it a lot easier for handlers to deal with buyers.

Traynor goofs
I never thought I’d have to apologize for making “only” a $5/colony price increase but here goes:

As with our beekeepers, we have a continuous clause in our grower agreements – we notify growers of next year’s pollination price in June and if they don’t cancel within 30 days the agreement stays in effect at the new price.

We give considerable thought when setting the price each year and we based our price increase for 2005 on 3 carefully thought-out reasons:

1. The 2nd consectutive billion lb crop would cause almond prices to fall.

2. Many older orchards would be pulled out.

3. The fogger machine would give beekeepers good mite control resulting in a greater bee supply for 2005.

I was 100% wrong on each of the above.

The depth of my mis-calculation was brought home to me last month when I was informed that Paramount Farming was giving their beekeepers a 20% price increase for 2005 – from $50 to $60 ($58.50 for their westside acreage which is brokered). With around 40,000 acres of almonds, what Paramount does has an influence throughout the industry.

When I first started brokering almond bees my goal (or vision) was to supply growers with a superior product and to pay beekeepers a premium price for this product. In 25+ years, this coming year will be the first that I haven’t fulfilled my goal with beekeepers. The price you receive for your bees in 2005 will be slightly above the industry average but will not be as high as it should be for the product you provide.

You may have heard that some beekeepers are holding out for $70 to $75/colony although I know of no confirmed contracts at that price. A number of colonies have been contracted at well below the price you will receive in 2005. One beekeeper that is holding out for top dollar told me I should go back to our growers, explain the situation, and ask for a higher price. I told him, sorry; once you make a deal you stick to that deal. Beekeepers that are holding out for top prices in 2005 could be in for a rude surprise as bees overwintered in Texas find their way to California.

I have talked by phone or in person with most of you in recent weeks and explained the situation as outlined above. In every case but one, you’ve said, in effect “Joe, you’ve done a good job for us over the years and we’re sticking with you.” (the one beekeeper that is leaving brought us 1 fill-in load this year and will be taking all his bees to Paramount next year).

Your loyalty is appreciated and I will make every effort to renew my original vision in the coming years.

Paramount’s price increase bodes well for future almond pollination prices. Every year, one or more of our growers asks me “Why are we paying so much more than Paramount?” Well, they can’t say that any more. Paramount is sending a message to the almond industry and the bee industry – a message we have been preaching for years: beekeepers should be paid a fair price for their services. In contrast to their low-ball philosophy of past years, Paramount has realized the value of bees and is paying accordingly. Stick with us and you’ll get paid accordingly in future years – it should be a nice ride.

Mite Control
As most beekeepers are aware from 1st-hand experience, neither Apistan or Check-Mite strips are effective against varroa. Several old and new materials show promise:

Formic acid – several formulations give good varroa control (temperature and humidity dependent). Matt Beekman (209)669-6323 is a distributor for Mite-Gone strips.

Thymol Gel – sold as ApiGuard by Vita, Ltd. Frank Eischen (956)969-5007 is enthused about this product (50 grams on cardboard next to brood; 2 applications, 2 weeks apart).

Sioux Bee is working on biological control using a fungus.

Oxalic acid shows promise using a Hudson sprayer for delivery.

Formic acid is hazardous to handle but a pre-packaged product reduces this hazard. Thymol and oxalic acid are not considered harmful.

It be the Drones
Here’s a nice quote from Dave Ellingson (MN):
“The hygenic queens have turned into a godsend for us. These bees control foulbrood and chalkbrood in the hives, and we don’t see many mites. We’re treating once a year for varroa, with coumaphos and once every 4 years for tracheal with menthol.”

Marla Spivak has been the driving force behind hygenic queens and you may have seen her presentations at one or more bee meetings over the years. The naysayers (including me) said “it will never work in a commercial operation because you can’t control the drones.” Well, thanks to Marla’s persistence, it IS working in a commercial operation. Ellison runs 3500 colonies and is large enough that
“now, after 6 years, when their queens mate naturally in their apiaries in Texas, they mate with hygenic drones.”
Above 2 quotes from July 2004 ABJ, p.535

How about a U.S. bee industry where there are ONLY hygenic drones out there? Ask your queen supplier if his (her) stock has hygenic genes from hygenic drones.

I + P = Success
Maria’s success story, above, is a good example of how Intelligence + Persistence leads to success. One without the other doesn’t work (we all know examples). The problems in the bee industry in recent years have weeded out a number of beekeepers that lacked the proper combination of I + P. Beekeepers today are both more intelligent and persistent than beekeepers of 20 years ago. This rise in intelligence was recently documented in the somewhat obscure Journal of Beekeeper Psychology (Vol. 12, No. 5, pp. 352-360). This study compared the IQ of beekeepers 20 years ago with the IQ of beekeepers in 2003 (a 50 person sample was used in each case). The results showed a remarkable 30 point difference in the 2 groups (120 in 1983 vs. 150 in 2003). Even when the 2 acknowledged California beekeeping geniuses, Ron Spears and Norm Cary (aka Cash & Carry) were excluded from the 2003 data, a significant 20 point rise in IQ was confirmed. (Both Spears and Cary have a dominant Persistence gene, which goes a long way towards explaining their success as beekeepers).

Patti Elzen
Those that attend bee meetings probably remember Patti Elzen who passed away this year. Patti had a wonderful combination of intelligence and perseverance that allowed her to make significant contributions to bee research esp. in regard to mite control and the proper use of chemicals to avoid mite resistance. Patti was a littly dynamo of energy and controlled enthusiasm. She will be missed by all in the beekeeping community.

Philosphy Note
More than one philosopher (or psychologist) has said that in order to really experience happiness you have to know pain; that true happiness is not possible when there is no knowledge of hardship; that if we go through life with everything going just right – no upsets – we don’t really experience or appreciate the highs of good times. This is why a glass of cold water after a hard day’s work in the sun can provide more pleasure than an expensive drink if one has been sitting in the shade all day. I think that is one of the attractions of beekeeping (and farming) – stay in it long enough and you’re bound to experience pain, but also the highs and rewards of a job well done.

Several California beekeepers have suffered devastating losses in recent years – Pat Heitkam and Les Ferguson lost warehouses to fire; Ron Spears lost 2,000 colonies in last fall’s fires; Chuck and John Nickels suffered heavy colony loss in the same fires. I remember about 10 years ago, Wade Anderson lost several hundred colonies when the San Joaquin River overflowed. There are many other examples. All these beekeepers took their losses in stride and soldiered on admirably in spite of the difficulties. All can now savor the good times, when they come, with more zest then if they had not gone through the bad times.

Every beekeeper has experienced the low of going to a bee yard and finding vandalism or bear damage or pesticide loss or starvation, disease, mites (or all of the preceding); this makes the high that much higher when you visit a yard and find the supers chock full of honey and the bees in great shape.

Fall is not often the happiest time in the beekeeping cycle. When going through bad times, always remember the good times lie somewhere ahead.

Fall and Winter Feed
You may again purchase supplemental bee feed through Norm Gary (559)562-1110 or Pat Heitkam (530)865-9562 and we will deduct the amount from your first almond check. Matt Beekman (209)669-6323 handles Mann Lake’s Bee-Pro.

Think also about using fumadil for nosema control. Its helped a lot of beekeepers.

Bee Meetings
California Beekeepers – San Diego – Nov. 8-11
Amer. Honey Producers – Tucson – Jan. 4-8
Amer. Bee Federation – Reno – Jan. 12-15

Often, 1 tidbit of information gleaned at these meetings can save you (or make you) thousands of dollars in the coming months.

Ann Harman
At the EAS meeting in Pennsylvania last month, I was privileged to meet Ann Harman who writes frequently for Bee Culture. I’ve always liked Ann’s writing and was impressed with her energy at the meeting – presiding over some sessions, doing lots of background work + helping run a book booth. After the meeting Ann was off to Ubakistan (or one of those -stan countries where I’d be afraid to go) to do some volunteer work for a few weeks. A remarkable lady!

The Book on Drugs
There’s a great new book out The Truth About the Drug Companies by Marcia Angell that deserves to be a best-seller. Drug companies have more lobbyists than there are U.S. congressmen, they spend $7 billion on sales reps alone and use academic and government institutions to run drug tests. The author is not an “environmental wacko” but is on the staff of Harvard Medical School and a former editor of the New England J. of Medicine. For a synopsis of the book, google: Marcia Angell drugs.

Great Book Deal!
To date I’ve sold over 12,000 copies of Honey – The Gourmet Medicine leaving only 7,500 left to sell. Here’s a deal for beekeepers: we’ll send you a box of books (88 books) from the Ohio warehouse at cost – $3/book and we’ll pay the shipping costs. Many beekeepers are giving out the book along with honey for yard rent.

2 Other Worthwhile Publications
Honey and Healing ($10) and The Antibacterial Activity of Honey ($5). Both are IBRA (U.K.) publications, but you can save postage costs by ordering from C&H Books, 1214 N. Poes Rd., Flint Hill, VA 22627. (540)364-4660.

Heitkam and Adee Team Up
I recently passed on to Pat Heitkam and Bret Adee that I was encouraging almond growers to cut back by 1/2 colony per acre in order to solve the impending bee crunch when almond acreage increases to 800,000 in a few more years. Both Pat and Bret gently chastised me for this approach and said they felt the bee industry could fill the needs of almond growers in the coming years – apparently they have access to untapped reserves of bees. Pat and Bret may be right. In any case, it’s nice to see Heitkam and Adee on the same side of an issue.

Microchip Placards
Enclosed is a NOTICE sheet – BEE HIVES ON THIS PROPERTY ARE PERMANENTLY IDENTIFIED WITH AVID MICROCHIPS. You can use this sheet to make copies to place at your winter stockpile sites. We’ll be putting more heavy-duty sheets at your almond sites; stop by our office and we’ll give you some (along with a can of almonds) . We hope to get more chips out soon to those beekeepers that weren’t with us last year. or you can order your own from AVID at (800)336-AVID or (909)371-7505.

The Future of Almond Pollination
As almond acreage increases, expect to be treated with unusual courtesy and respect by almond growers (and bee brokers). I ‘m convinced that the answer to the supply-demand crunch is for all growers to cut back on bees (using only strong colonies) but, at $2/lb almonds, I haven’t been able to convince any growers of this; maybe if (when) the price of almonds drops below $1/lb again. If the market does turn, I don’t anticipate any young orchards being pulled (the life of an orchard is about 22 years) but tree orders for new plantings could be cancelled. China is looking seriously into developing an almond industry but doesn’t have the climate for top yielding orchards – no California grower could cover costs with a 500#/acre crop, but a Chinese grower could.

With honey prices declining, I can see bee operations being managed solely for almond pollination. The next few years should be interesting.

Stay in touch. Call anytime to let us know how things are going and for an update here.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.