It’s not perfect this year, but it’s better.

That sums up the observations of bee expert Eric Mussen and California beekeepers on the state of honey bee strength for the 2012 almond pollination season.

Truckloads of bees from nearly every state begin arriving in California’s Central Valley in late December in preparation for almond pollination starting last month.

Nearly 1 million hives are trucked into California each winter for pollination services for the state’s multi-million dollar almond industry. As the nation’s No. 1 producer of almonds, California has more than 750,000 acres of bearing almonds and needs two strong colonies per acre to achieve proper pollination. California beekeepers supply the remaining half million hives needed.

“Growers want the strongest possible hives, and we offer them a look at the inside of the hives when we deliver,” said Gene Brandi, a Los Banos beekeeper who is active in state and national beekeeping associations. Brandi added that he has not heard of too many major crashes in honey bee hives recently — a change from a few years ago when talk of colony collapse disorder caused great concern among growers.

Mussen, a UC Extension apiculturist, said 2012 hive strength has improved over the last few years, and attributes stronger hives to beekeepers who have found ways to overcome losses.

Beginning in October 2006, beekeepers began reporting huge losses in bee numbers for unknown reasons. Without a specific cause for the losses, the term colony collapse disorder was coined. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, colony collapse disorder does not have a recognizable underlying cause, but is a result of a number of factors including viruses, parasites and environmental stresses.

Since that time, Mussen said, beekeepers have found ways to improve hive health and strength. Last year’s above average rainfall in California also provided a higher level of nutrition for foraging honey bees. Mussen said that added nutrition could make a significant difference in honey bee health.

Beekeepers have found that while first year colonies of bees are generally strong, they can be hit with health problems in the second year. Splitting the colonies and redistributing them can help them build back strength or “outrun” problems, Mussen said.