2012 Almond Pollination
January is a busy month for beekeepers as they sort through their hives, culling out sub-par colonies in order to give you the strongest possible colonies. This is an onerous task for beekeepers as every colony culled out represents lost income. Many of our beekeepers are able to rent their sub-par colonies elsewhere, and we encourage them to do so. In general, statewide, overall bee colony strength will be below average for 2012 almond bloom due to continuing problems with losses and diminished bee forage in 2011 in many parts of the country.

The true picture of bee colony strength doesn’t come into focus until mid-January. We spend lots of time on the phone in January making sure our (your) supply of strong colonies remains in tact. By having a large number of beekeepers under contract, by not contracting for 100% of any individual beekeeper’s colonies and by paying a premium price, we have always been able to deliver a premium product to our growers.

CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) continues
A consensus is forming among bee scientists that one or more viruses cause CCD and that the vectors of these viruses – the parasitic varroa mite and the fungus, Nosema ceranae – must be controlled to mitigate the damage caused by viruses. Maintaining optimum bee health via good nutrition provides some resistance to CCD. Chemicals give some control of mites and nosema but using excessive amounts of these chemicals, as some beekeepers do, can impair colony health.

Winter losses to CCD have been around 35% for the past three years and will likely be at least this level this winter. Every year is different and any individual beekeeper can get hit hard with CCD one year and get by relatively unscathed the next. No beekeeper, including our beekeepers, can tell you what his almond bees will look like until sometime in January.

Two of our beekeepers cut back from 1,000 colony commitments to 400 colonies last month – both beekeepers had excellent bees last year. To offset this, two other beekeepers who delivered 300 and zero colonies in 2011 are back up to 1,000 colonies for 2012 (if their bees hold up this month, and it looks like they will). Winter bee losses can often be traced back to a poor honey (and pollen) crop the previous summer; the 2011 honey crop was well below average, nationwide.

Pollination Prices
We set our prices in May-June each year and our 2012 prices are the same as in 2011 (and 2010). In recent months, pollination prices have increased by $5 to $10 per colony for a number of operations and several large almond-growing concerns will be paying more in 2012 than in 2011.

$ For Research
$2.00 per colony from our pollination fees ($1 each from growers and beekeepers) goes to bee research. Research $ from the rental of 33,538 colonies this year was distributed as follows:
Project ApisM:$56,000
Randy Oliver:$5,000
USDA Almond study (labor):$6,200
Project ApisM
Project ApisM was established in December 2006 and has contributed several hundred thousand dollars to bee research since that time. Project ApisM would like to collect $1 ea from growers and beekeepers.

A number of growers and beekeepers have contributed. You have contributed via the bees you rented from us; ask your fellow growers to pitch in. Check out the website ProjectApisM.org for more info.

Randy Oliver
Randy Oliver (see above) is a beekeeper/scientist and a prolific writer who conducts tests with his own bees (in Grass Valley, CA) in an effort to shed light on some of the many problems facing beekeepers. Randy enjoys good working relationships with many top bee researchers nationwide. Randy is not hampered by experimental design restrictions incurred by mainstream researchers and his “seat of the pants” research serves as a launching pad for more rigorous studies by others. Check out Randy’s work at www.scientificbeekeeping.com

Fungicides applied during full bloom can cause problems for both bees and pollination. An article in the March 7, 2009 Western Farm Press, Fungicides can reduce, hinder pollination potential of honey bees outlines some of the problems that occur. Do a Search for the title of this article to access it online. Note: Gordon Wardell, a contributor to this article is now the full-time bee person at Paramount Farms.

This past season, USDA researchers confirmed that bloomtime fungicide applications do indeed greatly curtail bee activity for at least a day. Fungicides can also interact with some of the mite-control chemicals in bee hives to make them more toxic to bees. Pollen with fungicides that is fed to bee larvae can hinder larval development, giving a post-bloom drop in hatching bees. Paramount Farms (Kern County) works closely with UC almond-disease scientists and applies fungicides only to the few blocks that have a history of disease.

Note: reduced or no-fungicide programs are only being used by some in the low-rainfall areas of the Southern San Joaquin Valley and the Westside and only on blocks that do not have a disease history. Fungicide applications are usually necessary in higher rainfall area. If fungicides must be applied, try to apply them at pink-bud or petal fall. If bloom sprays are used, try to make applications after 3PM or at night or at that stage of “full bloom” when there is little pollen left on the flowers.

Parkinson’s Pesticide Link
Parkinson’s Disease is more prevalent in the San JoaquIn Valley than in other areas and has been linked to long-term exposure to paraquat, maneb and ziram (do a Search for Parkinson’s Pesticides for more information). The European Union banned paraquat in 2007. The EPA banned the use of maneb on corn, grapes and apples in 2005 (but not on almonds). Ziram is still used extensively.

Are You Ready for The Big One?
No, not an earthquake, but a once in a thousand year storm that could dump 10 feet of water on the state in a month and put the entire Central Valley under water. Do a Search for ARkStorm for more info. (AR = Atmospheric River; k = 1,000).

Another Record Crop in 2012?
The 2011 almond crop came in at a record 2600 lbs/acre, shattering the old record of 2400 lbs in 2008. Part of the reason for the record crop is that Nonpareils “hit” in 2011 and Nonpareils comprise over a third of the state almond acreage (used to be over half until growers stopped planting two consecutive rows of Nonpareils). In most years, as the Nonpareils go, so goes the statewide crop. Nonpareils alternate bear more than other varieties, so don’t expect another record crop in 2012. Almond prices should remain high unless China and India contract ECD (Economic Collapse Disorder).

Getting Ready for Bees
It takes two to three weeks for most beekeepers to deliver their bees to almond orchards. Almost all of you get your winter work done in a timely manner which provides us with an ample window to deliver your bees. We, and our beekeepers, greatly appreciate your efforts on this. We usually start delivering bees the last week in January, and finish by February 15th. We’ll be in touch to get an idea on scheduling bees for your orchard(s) or, give us a call anytime.

Best Wishes for 2012
Best wishes for the New Year and for a bountiful 2012 almond crop.

Joe Traynor