California almond growers produce 99 percent of the U.S. commercial almond crop.

The annual California springtime pollination ritual in almond orchards is the world’s largest pollination event.

 

Dan Cummings is the E.F. Hutton of today for the intertwined California almond and beekeeping industries.

In the 1970s, the financial brokerage firm E. F. Hutton sponsored popular television commercials touting the phrase “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” The same is true for Cummings, one of the most respected and knowledgeable advocates in the California almond and honey bee industries on the essential issue of almond pollination.

“Pollination is truly a dynamic process,” says Cummings, owner and chief executive officer of Cummings Violich, Inc., in Chico, Calif. The company manages about 9,000 acres of almonds and walnuts.

Cummings is also chief financial officer of Olivarez Honey Bees in Orland, Calif., with operations in Montana and Hawaii.

Cummings and other almond-bee experts addressed pollination issues during a standing-room-only seminar at the two-day 2011 Almond Industry Conference in Modesto, Calif., in December.

Due to increased conference attendance in recent years and space restrictions in Modesto, the almond industry will make a bee line to Sacramento, Calif., in 2012 for a three-day Almond Industry Conference Dec. 11-13 at the Sacramento Convention Center.

Cummings understands that no bees equal no California almond crop. Almond trees are 100 percent reliant on bee pollination to produce a crop. Beekeepers need almond growers to help cover the costs associated with healthy, quality hives.

California almond growers produce 99 percent of the U.S. commercial almond crop.

“Better understanding bee pollination perhaps holds the greatest promise for the future of the California almond industry,” Cummings told the crowd.

California’s almond industry is comprised of about 750,000 bearing acres plus about 80,000 non-bearing acres. The annual California springtime pollination ritual in almond orchards is the world’s largest pollination event.

Last year, California almond growers produced a record 1.95 billion kernel pound crop. The industry is poised to produce a record 2-billion-pound crop this year.

On average, two hives are required per acre for almond flower pollination. About 1.5 million managed honey bee hives of the 2.5 million managed hives nationwide pollinate almond flowers. More honey bees will be required in the future as California almond acreage expands. Future plantings are expected to slow slightly in the short term.

An adequate and affordable honey bee supply is critical to the long-term prosperity of almond growers and beekeepers.

Worries continue over significant bee losses in the last five years linked to a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). The disorder is about the loss of billions of bees over time which flew from hives and never returned.

“We have not figured out what causes CCD,” Cummings said. “There is a very high correlation with the presence of the nosema parasite and the varroa mite.”

Estimates peg annual bee losses in the 30 percent range in recent years.

“Not only has CCD decreased the number of hives and bees per hive available for pollination but it has dramatically increased the costs to keep hives alive and for re-queening,” Cummings explained.

Beehive rental rates have edged higher partly tied to CCD. According to a California State Beekeepers Association Survey, average beehive rental rates for almond pollination more than doubled from about $58 per hive in 2004 to $151 per hive in 2010. The association expects 2012 hive rental rates in the $155 per hive range.