Bee Supply for Almond Pollination

We have secured a bee supply for all almond growers that have signed up with us. We will be monitoring our bee supply (from about 60 beekeepers) closely as we approach almond bloom.

Dry conditions in most U.S. honey producing areas have resulted in a poor honey crop nation-wide, and esp. in the western states. Colony condition is below par and it will be more difficult for beekeepers to come up with strong bee colonies for almonds growers. We anticipate the toughest year ever in getting strong colonies for almonds.

Here's where our service gives you a tremendous advantage. By having a large number of beekeepers to draw from, we can select the strongest bee colonies for your orchard. We recently dropped 2 bee suppliers and cut back on some others that are having problems this year; we have made up this shortfall by taking on 2 new beekeepers and taking more bees from areas that had good bee pasture this summer. We have a similar turnover in beekeepers every year. The 2 beekeepers we dropped for 2003 may well be back in 2004, if it looks like their bees are faring well.

Also, we never contract for 100% of an indivdual beekeeper's supply. We ask that they bring only their strongest colonies. The ones we don't take, they rent elsewhere (at a lower price) or leave behind.

20 years ago one would have a good handle in November on the bee supply in February. With the advent of mites and other problems, bee colonies can look great in November and crash in January. We monitor colony strength right up to the time of delivery to your orchards. State-wide, there has never been a shortage of bees colonies for almond pollination at 2 colonies per acre IF colony strength is not specified. There has been a shortage of strong bee colonies every year for the past 20 years - we anticipate 2003 to be no different.

Honey Prices as Related to Bee Supply
Honey prices to the beekeeper are currently at historically high levels - $1.50/lb, compared to 60¢/lb a couple of years ago. There are 3 major reasons: 1. anti-dumping suits (against China and Argentina) by the American Honey Producers Assn. (half the honey sold in the U.S. is imported). 2. The banned chemical, Chloramphenicol, was found in China honey in Europe, then in the U.S. 3. The short U.S. honey crop.

This price spike is temporary. Prices will come down since Chinese beekeepers are no longer using Chloramphenicol and anti-dumping measures may not hold (ask a garlic grower). Some beekeepers are stripping their hives of honey that would normally stay on during the winter (those of you that have hefted bee hives are aware they contain 50 to 100 lbs. of wintered honey). These beekeepers are either killing their colonies off (in colder climates) or sending them to Texas or other southern states where they can make honey in February. Some stripped colonies will come to California where they will have a harder time in the winter without the insulation and feed supplied by honey.

We estimate that 5,000 to 10,000 bee colonies that have come to almonds in past years will not be back due to high honey prices. Beekeepers that have established a good one on one relationship with growers will return, partly out of a sense of loyalty and partly because they don't want to burn any bridges. The beekeepers that aren't returning are ones that have dealt with no-pay, slow-pay or low-pay growers (or bee brokers) and feel under no obligation to return. We are pleased that none of our beekeepers canceled on us - a reflection on the amount they are paid and on the type of grower we deal with.

Every year, some beekeepers in CA, AZ and TX don't contract bees until the last minute because every year, for one reason or another, there are orchards looking for last minute bees. These beekeepers know from experience that these last-minute callers for bees rarely, if ever, ask about colony strength.

Flight Range of Bees
As outlined in the enclosed article, bees will fly well over 4 miles, even during almond pollination. In the most extensive study on the subject, U.C. researchers concluded that:

The ability of bees to forage well away from their hives, even during very cool weather in early spring is evident in this study . . . . These observations suggest that the density and distribution of colonies used for almond pollination should be determined on a community basis, rather than on the basis of individual orchards. Where there was intense competition, owing to high hive densities, foragers dispersed to orchards containing fewer bees.*

Ideally, colonies should be placed on center roads of orchards although this isn't always possible. Colonies placed on the periphery of orchards are more susceptible to damage from pesticides applied to crops in the area.

Colony strength trumps colony distribution every time - a strong colony covers a much greater area than a weak colony. That colonies 1/2 mile from bloom gained more weight than those right at the bloom (enclosed study) is not an anomoly; other studies have shown there is more bee activity a mile from hives than right at the hive. Follow the flight of bees as they leave the hive to verify this in your orchard. Increased fruit set close to colonies can be expected with weak colonies.

Fall and Spring Boron Sprays
Recent studies have shown that fall and pink bud sprays of boron can increase nut set. The sprays give good results in some years, none in others. Recommended rate is 1 to 2 lbs of Solubor in 100 gallons of water per acre. Note: boron can ''salt out" when applied with zinc sulfate (fall spray) but should be compatible with most fungicides (spring spray); check with your PCA.

Dormant Sprays and Bees
Last year we experienced a significant pesticide loss of bees after moving in 3 days after a dormant spray. Give us a big enough window for bee moving so that we can deliver bees on time. Check with adjacent orchards to verify they have finished spraying. Ideally, dormant spraying should be done by January 15 - if not completed by then, consider eliminating the spray.

Jeb, Cuba and Almonds
Now that Jeb Bush has handily won re-election as Florida's governor, maybe the Bush administration will ease up on trade restrictions with Cuba. The new generation of Cuban-Americans in Florida is not as militantly opposed to trade as their parents. The Farm Bureau strongly supports easing restrictions. Cuba could be a significant buyer of almonds.

Last Newsletter for Some
Barry Birkey, Chicago, IL, is a computer whiz that has been posting my newsletters at

Printed copies of this newsletter go to all growers that get bees from us. It also goes to "some others" that are interested in almond pollination. If you are in the "some others" category, this will be your last newsletter unless you request that we send you a "hard copy".

Happy Holidays
Now that you beat the rain with almond harvest, enjoy the upcoming Holiday Season.

We'll be in touch after the first of the year to coordinate bee deliveries with your orchard operations, or, give us a call anytime.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.

*Norman Gary, et al, U.C., Davis Entomology Dept. The Inter- and Intra-Orchard Distribution of Honeybees during Almond Pollination and Distribution and Foraging Activities of Honeybees during Almond Pollination. Journal of Apicultural Research 1976, 15:43-50 - 1978, 17:188-194 (copies sent on request)


P.O. Box 2144
Bakersfield, CA 93303

Toll-free number: (877) 356-5846
Office Located at:
1734 D Street, Suite #2
Bakersfield, California
24 Hr. Phone (661) 327-2631