In his 2013 bee supply outlook, Bakersfield, Calif., beekeeper Joe Traynor says getting strong bee colonies for almonds (8 to 10 frames of bees) will be a much tougher task for the 2013 season than it has been in recent years. He cites two reasons for that:

• Loss of the most effective chemical for varroa mite control.

• Poor bee forage last year due to drought conditions in most bee areas.

The most effective varroa control chemical became unavailable in last year when the overseas manufacturer stopped production. Beekeepers that stockpiled the material in 2011 got good varroa control in 2012. "Some beekeepers had to use alternate materials and found their colonies weakened to the point where many perished or were too far gone to nurse back to almond pollinating strength. There is a crying need for effective varroa-control products. The difficulty in controlling this pernicious pest with approved products is causing some beekeepers to improvise their own varroa treatments," Traynor said.

Drought conditions have left bee colonies in many areas in a weakened nutritional state, making them more susceptible to varroa mites and its associated viruses. "This one-two punch from varroa and drought will result in above average winter losses of bees and overall weaker bee colony strength for almonds," he said. "Some beekeepers are predicting $200 per colony bee rental prices for almonds for the few growers that haven't yet contracted for bees or for growers whose beekeepers jumped ship because they didn't feel they were getting a fair price.”