What is in this article?:
- The California almond industry experienced an initial shortage of honey bees for pollination this spring.
- Yet, good weather and extra bees brought in at the last minute helped result in the successful almond pollination.
- Not only was the supply of honey bees down this spring but bee quality was also an issue, due to drought and varroa mite issues.
The successful 2013 almond tree pollination in February was nothing short of a miracle. Then again, California’s top nut industry has a long history of February triumphs in the back pocket.
This spring, honey bees successfully pollinated California’s 800,000 acres of almonds; the Golden State’s top-valued nut with farm cash receipts near $3.87 billion in 2011.
Yet there initially was a shortage of strong honey bees which threatened the almond bloom. In the end, perfect weather and last ditch efforts between beekeepers nationwide and almond growers combined for a successful pollination event.
“The almond bloom balanced out beautifully,” says entomologist Eric Mussen, University of California, Davis statewide apiculturist, Davis, Calif.
Weeks before the largest pollination event on Earth, reports surfaced about a possible shortage of honey bees to adequately pollinate almond tree blooms. A pollination catastrophe could be a sword in the side of the California almond industry and beekeepers.
Yet in early June, almond trees are laden with a large crop which could mirror the 2011 record almond crop. With an abundance of nuts, some almond growers wonder if a honey bee shortage ever occurred.
There was a shortage of honey bees this spring, reports Mussen; along with bee broker Joe Traynor of Scientific Ag Company, Bakersfield, Calif.; and bee biologist Gordon Wardell, Paramount Farming, Lost Hills, Calif.
“We did not have adequate numbers of grower-desired strong honey bee colonies (with eight frames or more) to meet the need,” Mussen said.
Traynor pegged the honey bee shortage in the 10-20 percent range for bees working almond blossoms.
Wardell added, “Year in and year out commercial beekeepers were tapped out and came up short.”
Paramount Farming grows about 46,000 acres of almonds; mostly in Kern County. The company rents colonies from beekeepers in 26 states.
To make up for the bee supply deficiency, beekeepers brought in lesser-sized colonies at the last minute. The combination of great weather and a prolonged bloom period, plus strong colonies, and smaller colonies resulted in the successful almond pollination.
“Here we are with another good crop,” Mussen said. “If we had not acquired the smaller colonies we would have been short.”
The California almond bloom requires about 1.5 million hives for pollination. About a third is supplied by California beekeepers.
Technically, there are plenty of commercial bees nationally – 2.6 million colonies, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“We’re not getting all of the bees that could be on wheels coming to California,” Mussen said.
Some U.S. beekeepers prefer to keep bees locally to produce summer honey, and not expose the bees to the stress from trucking colonies to the West Coast and back.