What is in this article?:
- California beekeeper driven by passion, pollination and quality
- CCD, frugality, foraging
- Bradshaw Honey Farm located near Visalia, Calif., includes about 4,000 honey bee colonies for crop pollination and honey production.
- Colony collapse disorder has substantially reduced bee colony numbers at the Bradshaw operation.
- Wise money management has helped the farm remain financially afloat through heavy CCD-related bee losses.
- Honey from the Bradshaw operation is sold to Sue Bee Honey and processed at a facility in Anaheim, Calif.
David Bradshaw of Bradshaw Honey Farm, Visalia, Calif.
David Bradshaw sat outside his modest beekeeper shop near Visalia, Calif., early this summer sharing his passion to supply the highest quality bees for crop pollination and a weighty arsenal of concerns which threaten many beekeepers’ livelihoods.
Bradshaw, 55, a second-generation beekeeper and owner of Bradshaw Honey Farm, is the caretaker of about 140 million honey bees housed in about 4,000 colonies (hives). Each colony includes about 35,000 buzzing honey bees per dual wood box.
The farm is considered a medium-to-large operation.
The Bradshaw family business was started by David’s father Howard, 80, in the late 1940s in Hawaii. The elder Bradshaw purchased his first beehive at a Sears Roebuck and Company store.
Bradshaw bees pollinate almonds, plums, kiwis, avocados, alfalfa seed, cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, and olives during the annual spring bloom. Most of the bees pollinate crops within a 10-mile radius of the shop.
The annual California springtime almond pollination ritual is the world’s largest pollination event.
“Almond pollination helps beekeepers make it financially from one year to the next,” David Bradshaw said.
For this year’s almond bloom, Bradshaw’s per colony rental price was $135; $20 lower than the average industry price of $155. Bee colony rates ranged this year from $120 per hive to $185 per hive based on a variety of factors.
Bradshaw’s lower cost is based on location, location, location.
“My colony rental price is lower because I don’t travel far,” said the second-generation beekeeper. “I don’t have as many transportation costs so I pass the savings along to my grower customers. I’ve been working with most of my growers for about 35 years.”
Crop pollination bee services generate about 65 percent of Bradshaw’s annual income with the 35 percent balance from honey production.
(For more, see: Pound of honey a stunning bee creation)
A major threat to Bradshaw’s financial bottom line is colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD is a phenomenon first discovered in late 2006 when many worker bees in colonies located mostly in North America left the colonies and never returned.
Bee scientists worldwide have studied the puzzling problem and have not identified the culprit. Many experts believe the bee disappearance could be tied to a virus, the combination of a virus and a fungus, neonicotinoid insecticides, or royal jelly or pollen imported from China.
Bradshaw’s bees disappeared when the North American bee exodus occurred.
“I was stunned,” Bradshaw said. “Some of the bee hives were empty for what appeared to be no apparent reason. The bees left the colony to forage and never returned.”
Normally, Bradshaw loses 10 percent to 15 percent of his bees annually due to a variety of causes. Since CCD, his bee losses have elevated to 30 percent to 70 percent annually. Last year the total loss was 60 percent.
“I’ve lost 2,500 of my 4,000 colonies several years since CCD occurred,” Bradshaw said.
Bradshaw says his colonies are valued at about $150 each.
The massive bee losses from CCD have taken heavy personal, mental, and financial tolls on the Bradshaw family.