In other words, fewer colonies will be available for the almond growers and the colonies that are available aren’t going to be as populous, he said.” Almond growers usually want at least eight frames of bees per hive,” Mussen said, “but this year they may be lucky to get six.  That’s one-third less bees per hive to pollinate the orchards.”

Mussen estimated a good solid hive with eight frames amounts to 2000 bees per frame or 16,000 bees.

Already brokers are getting calls from beekeepers saying “I can’t fulfill the contract. I’m going to be short.”

Mussen said it may all work out well in the end as “bees pollinate almonds on a community basis. The strong colonies will make up for the weak colonies. The strong colonies will clean the orchard of pollen by early afternoon and then go down the street and grab food from nearby orchards.”

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San Joaquin almond orchards are already starting to bloom, “but it’s going to be late up here in the Sacramento Valley,” he said.  Kern County grows more almonds than any other county in the state.

“If we hit abnormally warm stretches that push out all the bloom at once,  that will be good,” said Mussen. “It’s likely that cross-pollination will be better if we have a steady period of warm weather, instead of a warm-cold fluctuating period.”

Although the almond growers are paying a lot of money for their pollination services –an average of $150 per hive—there’s no guarantee it will be a good nut set, Mussen warned. “If it’s too cool, fertilization may not occur.  The pollen tubes won’t grow all the way down to the base of the flower to the ovum.  The good nut set occurs within the first three days of pollination or at the most, within five days.”

On the other hand, if the weather is too hot and dry, the tissue dries out, he explained.  “So we need nice warm weather that’s not too hot or too cold to get good fertilization and nut set. It’s not always  the bees’ fault if the nuts fail to grow.”

Many beekeeping operations truck in thousands of colonies to pollinate California’s almonds. One beekeeping operation used to bring 16,000 colonies, Mussen said, “but that 16,000 could be half that this year.”  The bees are trucked here from all over the nation.

Around Feb. 14 the average almond orchard in California is in full bloom, but some orchards bloom earlier or later, depending on the cultivar and the weather.  An almond orchard blooms a total of about two weeks, he said, pointing out that “the season is short.”

“Around March 7 to the 10th is the last pollination period for almonds in California,” he said. That means that some beekeepers can do double duty with their bees , first pollinating orchards in early February and then heading off to other orchards  for the last blooms of the season.”

Almonds are California's biggest export.  This year the National Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting a record-breaking 2.10 billion meat pounds, valued at approximately $3 billion. Eighty-percent of the global supply of almonds is grown in California, and about 70 percent of California’s crop is marketed overseas.