Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the sudden, not yet fully understood disappearance of bees from a colony, is once again having an impact on California almond production and beekeepers.

“It causes a horrendous loss of bees that can’t be explained — and then it’s over,” says Eric Mussen, University of California Cooperative Extension apiculturist.

This year’s bee losses could be unusually high, experts say.

CCD has struck periodically in the United States since the 19th century, with the last occurrence 1963-65. The latest episode began in the winter of 2004-05, but although it has made life tougher on growers, until now it hasn’t hurt a crop, Mussen says.

The jury is still out on this year’s crop.

Complicating the search for a cure is that CCD doesn’t affect every beekeeper. Mussen and his colleagues surveyed beekeepers about the current outbreak and found that about 25 percent had it in their hives.

“It seems that once you get CCD in your hives, you can’t get it out,” he says.

“Some beekeepers are already out of business due to CCD and others are going out of business. It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen with CCD next year. Beekeepers make the best decisions they can and try to keep their colonies as strong and as healthy as possible.”

The sheer number of almond trees in California and their biology adds to the challenge of providing growers with enough bees. With more than 700,000 acres of trees in bloom during the short pollinating period, Mussen estimates that the state’s almond growers need more than 1 million bee colonies.

“Almonds are about the only crop that has problems, in a big way, getting enough bees at the right time,” he says.

With other crops, like apples, varieties bloom at different times. Apple pollination requires a large number of bees, but the bloom is spread over a longer time frame, making it easier for beekeepers to supply bees when needed.