The Almond Board of California (ABC) has contributed to pollination and honey bee research for over 30 years; since 1976 it has supported one of the largest sustained funding efforts of any non-government organization.
Early work led by Dr. Robbin Thorp (UC Davis, retired) and Gerald Loper (USDA Carl Hayden Lab, Tucson, retired) refined guidelines for the strength and number of hives needed for sufficient almond pollination. Over time, threats to honey bee health, including the Varroa mite and more recently factors associated with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), have emerged and the almond industry-funded program has responded.
ABC’s pollination research program addresses honey bee nutrition, pest and disease management, and pesticide exposure. The program’s mission is to ensure strong, healthy hives in sufficient numbers for almond pollination. To that end, the ABC’s Bee Task Force was formed in 2005 with representation from the almond industry, beekeepers and researchers. This Task Force addresses bee health and transportation challenges, while overseeing ABC-funded pollination research.
The ABC “partners” with beekeepers, other organizations and research institutions to accomplish common goals. Of note is the synergy and coordination with Project Apis m. (www.projectapism.org), a non-profit organization supported by beekeepers and almond growers. Between the Almond Board and Project Apis m., there is research being conducted across the U.S., at the USDA-ARS honey bee labs and at several universities.
Accomplishments of ABC-funded efforts have:
• Demonstrated optimum hive strength for almond pollination to be eight frames of bees per hive with a laying queen and one to two frames of brood at the onset of almond pollination.
• Established that late summer through fall feeding, particularly of protein, is important for strong hives at almond bloom.
• Assisted in development of MegaBee, or the Tucson Diet, a nutrition supplement for honey bees.
• Tracked northward migration of Africanized honey bees to the U.S.
• Improved understanding of alternative pollinators.
• Developed and tested treatments for Varroa mite, the key pest in colonies.
• Studied detection and control measures for red imported fire ants and small hive beetle.
• Evaluated effects of fungicides on honey bees.
Current research activities include:
• Developing novel approaches for Varroa mite control.
• Assessing alternative controls for Nosema, a fungal disease of honey bees.
• Unraveling the factors contributing to CCD, including the role of viruses.
• Evaluating Blue Orchard bees to supplement honey bee pollination.
• Improving honey bee resistance to pests and pathogens through breeding.
It is crucial for almond growers to work closely with their contracted beekeepers to make sure they are provided with a healthy, adequate supply of bees. The following suggestions for growers will help ensure pollination needs are met and bees are kept healthy:
• Ask your beekeeper how many frames per hive to expect.
• Inquire about bee nutrition and what the bees are fed during the summer and fall.
• Ensure bees are treated for Varroa mite and Nosema disease.
• Observe the bees during your visits to the orchard. Make sure the bees look vigorous and active.
• Talk with your beekeeper about pesticides used for the orchard. Do not use pesticides indiscriminately, and especially do not use pesticides at mid-day, when bees are out foraging.
Specific guidelines are given in “Honey Bees and Agricultural Sprays” by Eric Mussen, Extension apiculturist, UC Davis, at the Almond Board Web site (www.almondboard.com) under industry resources, pollination.
Be sure to review the contract with your beekeeper prior to pollination. A well-written contract should protect both growers and beekeepers and include the following:
• Strength and number.
• Delivery in relation to start of bloom and interval from dormant spray.
• Distribution of hives in an orchard.
• Parameters for third-party inspection.
• Pesticide use and timing.
• Removal of bees after bloom.
• Payment terms and recourse.
A sample pollination contract is available at the Project Apis m. Web site under downloads (www.projectapism.org).
Additional resources offered by the Almond Board include a Pollination Directory, which is a guide for almond growers seeking pollination and related services, and a list of California Agricultural Commissioners that offer hive and colony strength inspections. Both can be found at the Almond Board Web site under industry resources, pollination.