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Feb. 21, 2022

2022 Almond Season with John Miller (S4, E36)

2022 Almond Season with John Miller (S4, E36)

In today episode, we welcome back Friend of the Podcast, commercial beekeeper, and longtime industry advocate, John Miller, to share with you his perspective of the 2022 almond pollination season. We caught up with John while he sat in the cab of his...


In today episode, we welcome back Friend of the Podcast, commercial beekeeper, and longtime industry advocate, John Miller, to share with you his perspective of the 2022 almond pollination season. We caught up with John while he sat in the cab of his pickup at a stop in Central California. On John’s last visit to the podcast, he talked with us about his plans for indoor wintering. Today, we asked just how that went.

His take? Indoor wintering works with more healthy bees the result and it’s going to change what happens every spring in California’s almond orchards.

Indoor wintering now allows for the inspection of colonies before leaving they leave the indoor facility in January. That is an equally big change in shipping bees to California. The result? More colonies are healthy in January and the California border inspection stations aren’t overwhelmed with thousands of trucks backed up loaded with bees heading to the almond orchards each January.

The almond bloom is about a week early this year up north and hive theft is still happening. Locked gates help a lot but don’t stop it completely.

There is a change underway in the industry as more commercial beekeepers are focusing on raising bees for pollination and later packages than in producing honey. Like a big game of ‘whack-a-mole’, tariffs and trade sanctions just push the problem of cheap honey imports to pop up from new countries. (Locally produced and sold honey is still valuable!)

Listen in as John shares his observations of the largest movement of honey bees in the world from the cab of a pickup truck with today’s guest.

If you liked today's episode, subscribe/follow to keep up to date with the latest releases!

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura

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We welcome Betterbee as sponsor of today's episode. BetterBee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, BetterBee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com

Thanks to Strong Microbials for their support of Beekeeping TodayStrong Microbials Podcast. Find out more about heir line of probiotics in our Season 3, Episode 12 episode and from their website: https://www.strongmicrobials.com

This episode is brought to you by Global Patties! Global Patties is a family business that manufactures protein supplement patties for honey bees. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will help Global Pattiesensure that they produce strong and health colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Global offers a variety of standard patties, as well as custom patties to meet your specific needs. Visit them today at http://globalpatties.com and let them know you appreciate them sponsoring this episode! 

Thanks for Northern Bee Books for their sponsorship of Bee Books: Old & New with Kim Flottum. Northern Bee Books is the publisher of bee books available worldwide from their website or from Amazon and bookstores everywhere. They are also the publishers of The Beekeepers Quarterly and Natural Bee Husbandry. Check them out today!

We want to also thank 2 Million Blossoms as a sponsor of the podcast. 2 Million Blossoms is a regular podcast featuring interviews with leading bee and insect researchers in the world of pollination, hosted by Dr. Kirsten Traynor.

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We hope you enjoy this podcast and welcome your questions and comments: questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com

Thanks to Bee Culture, the Magazine of American Beekeeping, for their support of The Beekeeping Today Podcast. Available in print and digital at www.beeculture.com

Bee Culture Magazine

Thank you for listening! 

Podcast music: Be Strong by Young Presidents; Epilogue by Musicalman; Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus; Original guitar background instrumental by Jeff Ott

Beekeeping Today Podcast is an audio production of Growing Planet Media, LLC

Growing Planet Media, LLC

Transcript

S4, E36 – 2022 Almond Season with John Miller

[music]

Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.

Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.

Global Patties: Hey, Jeff, and Kim. Today's sponsor is Global Patties. They're a family-operated business that manufacturers protein supplement patties for honeybees. It's a good time to think about honeybee nutrition. Feeding your hives protein supplement patties will ensure that they produce strong and healthy colonies by increasing brood production and overall honey flow. Now is a great time to consider what type of patty is right for your area and your honeybees.

Global offers a variety of standard patties as well as custom patties to meet your needs. No matter where you are, global is ready to serve you out of their manufacturing plants in Airdrie, Alberta, and in Butte, Montana, or from distribution depots across the continent. Visit them today at www.globalpatties.com.

Jeff: Thank you, Global Patties, and thank you, Sherry. Each week, we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and we know you'd rather we get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our great sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen. From the transcripts, the hosting fees, the hardware, the software, the microphones, reporters, the subscriptions, everything that takes to make an episode, they enable. With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast.

Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank 2 Million Blossoms that sponsor this episode. 2 Million Blossoms is dedicated to protecting all pollinators. Listen 2 Million Blossoms–The Podcast at 2millionblossoms.com, and that is why they're number two. Available from the website of wherever you download your podcast.

Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us. We are truly happy you're here. Hey, Kim. It's almost March. It's almost, it's coming. It's there. It's on the horizon.

Kim: Dream on. I'm looking at today it was 50 and tomorrow it will be 24. Dream on. It ain't ever going to get here but I tell you, do you know what I wish? I wish I was sitting where John Miller is sitting today.

Jeff: Yes. Well, maybe not in the exact same place but in the same locale. Right?

Kim: Same locale. In the middle of an almond orchard someplace. I've been there during almond bloom and there may be better places on Earth but I've never seen them.

Jeff: I've not been to an almond orchard during the bloom, and I look forward to that at some point.

Kim: You need to bike that 400-mile bee yard sometime, Jeff.

Jeff: That would be fun. Although, I probably get run over by a truck. Someone rushing bees to get to another orchard somewhere further up the hillside or something. Well, that does lead us to today's show. We have a friend of the podcast, John Miller. He's been around the industry for many years. He's a regular contributor to Bee Culture Magazine, a monthly column. You've known John for longer than I have. I've known him for 23, 24 years.

Kim: Yes. It's longer than that. Not a lot longer than that. We got together pretty much when I first started with the magazine and that was 30 plus years ago. We've been together a lot. I've been to his place a number of times. A number of his places. He's got more than one.

Jeff: [laughs] That's a sign of a successful beekeeper. We've had John on the show at least two other times and talking about often the politics of beekeeping. The last time he was on, we talked about indoor wintering, which is a very fascinating and new topic for beekeepers, commercial beekeepers. Today, we invited him back to talk about almond pollination and almond season, which we are directly in the middle of.

Kim: Hopefully, he'll be able to tell us a little bit about the overwintering in that building and how it went, and what happened after that. How did he get them out of there. Get them on trucks, get them to the orchards, all those things. I'm interested in hearing this. This is the next generation of keeping bees and pollinating almonds, is that overwintering building.

Jeff: It really is. Let's get John on the show right now. First, a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.

[audio playback]

[music]

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[music]

[end of audio playback]

Jeff: Hey, everybody. Welcome back and while you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive, their regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product information.

Hey, everybody, welcome back again. Sitting across the virtual-- well, not even across the virtual Zoom table, sitting in a pickup truck cab somewhere in California right now is our good friend of the podcast, John Miller. John Miller, welcome back to Beekeeping Today Podcast.

John Miller: Thanks, Jeff. Hi, Kim. It's good to see you guys. It's good to be back.

Kim: Glad you could make it today, John. Sitting in the cab of a pickup in the middle of California almonds is romantic in a way. It's a real-life adventure right now. What I wanted to start with, John, was we left off last time with your wintering indoors and your thought was -before they came out- you were going to have California inspectors come out and take a look at them so that you could avoid that step once you got to California at the spring. How did overwintering go? Did the inspection procedure work?

John: Good questions because overwintering is now probably million hives are wintering indoors now. Those buildings are several different designs but the outcome is the strength, the well-being, and the health of those colonies coming out of the buildings is pretty darn good. It's pretty darn good.

Western Idaho buildings were pretty darn good and buildings at Filer worked pretty good. Filer, Idaho. Our building is in North Dakota, which is a little bit different. Three or four years ago, we could see that the amount of traffic coming through Truckee, 87% of all of these come through Truckee, California. That bug station is just overwhelmed.

There's too overwhelmed inspectors in there, they were donning their bee gear and their flashlights before dawn and after dusk and looking for bugs, they couldn't make a determination on. It was a mess. Between Richard Waycott, the CEO of the Almond Board, Dan Cummings, the Chair of Blue Diamond, Secretary Karen Ross, the Chair of the Apiary Inspectors of America, and North Dakota, Commissioner Doug Goring, all those guys supported an effort to streamline the process of trucking to get those trucks through without getting into a delay because as indoor wintering was emerging, the science is not in question.

I said to Karen Ross one day, I said, "There's 2000 semis bees coming through here between the 10th of January and 6th February. There's no way that can be handled." At the time, I was listening to a guy talking about how the cherry growers of California had been shipping their cherries to the Tokyo Fish Market and they'd been rejected, and once your load of cherries is rejected in Tokyo, you're done. There's no way to fly those cherries back to any other market.

The cherry guys imported the Japanese ag inspectors to Stockton at the packing house before the bees ever left, before the cherries ever left. Got the stamp of approval from the Japanese ag inspector and the cherries flew through without any problem. We adopted that idea to bring the California Department of Agriculture Pest Exclusion inspectors out to the indoor building in California. If you've ever inspected bees, you can spend an hour inspecting 40 hives or you can spend an hour inspecting 15,000 hives. We saw an opportunity to go inside these indoor storage buildings, do good scientific sample in the assay. Then if the results were clean, came on no hive beetles, no fire ants, no noxious weeds, issue a certificate of pre-inspection. That worked pretty well. A memorandum of understanding was adopted between Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, and California, perhaps, Washington now, too.

That's the story and it worked. The unintended consequence, Kim, is what you'd never think, you don't see that coming. The guys who really liked the program are the truckers who are not hung up there for two hours waiting to get in, and the inspectors who don't have to put on their hat and bail and go out looking for bugs, like, "Here's a piece of paper says it was dream inspected. Stamp it, got the blessing of clergy and down the road we go." That part works great.

Kim: I'm impressed that it worked that well that fast.

John: The first time, it was a pilot project, and now, this year, we reengaged with CDFA, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and we have yet another piece of paper that identifies the load and identifies this and that, and the building, and the facility. Now, we just walk in, the guy stamps it, stamps the bill of lading, and out the door, it goes. Literally, one minute in, one minute out. This, again, is a pilot project and there was only one outfit in the nation that tried it this year, but by all counts, everybody likes it.

Jeff: How long before you ship the bees are the inspectors in the building?

John: Good question. Usually, the inspections, they try to get them after the 15th of December and prior to the 15th of January because we start shipping the 6th of January. They want some relevance, some time relevance, so they come close but not too close, far but not too far ahead of the schedule.

Jeff: Is there any certification or guarantee that there's the same bees they inspected are the same bees you deliver? Is that a handshake or is that any kind of certification?

John: I have never thought of that before. I guess they could stamp it or they could timestamp their activity in there. I guess there would be a way of mailing a tag on the hives, but thus far, it's a memorandum of understanding between the State of California and the State of North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

Jeff: That's good.

John: So far, nobody's gaming it because if you game a system and your whole building goes upside down, that's the penalty you don't want.

Jeff: Yes, you don't want to be that guy.

John: No, you don't want to be that guy. I think the indoor operators understand that you don't want to be that guy. Don't game the system.

Kim: When they come out to inspect, John, I'm guessing that all of the bees in your building are all yours, but some of these buildings have more than one beekeeper in them. The inspectors, they're coming into the forklift and they're taken off the top pallet, and then this pallet below it, and they're going into another pile and doing the same thing. How's this work?

John: Usually, they don't go into the upper stories because the building is grided in columns and rows, and you could hunt and pack a few stacks off the top on the outside, but the building is put together like a LEGO set. You can't sample it in that sense of the word. What they do is usually go along ground level, ground level palette, and the second pallet up. With their flashlights, they will be looking for field debris, an elderly couple of hive beetles, fire ant, and guess what?

They're never going to see one in our building because we know what's going into that building before they go into that building. They're not going to see something that would take the building upside down. There is a risk here of an operator introducing a hive beetle or a fire ant into this building. The climate or the environment for hive beetle and a fire ant inside a dark, cold concrete building is perhaps, the least-- it's a hostile environment for those predators.

The last thing that happens to our pallets before they enter the building is they get a thorough cleaning, either a pressure wash, or an air jet, or a garden hoe underneath black widows, any grasshoppers, any plop plops from the field, all that stuff gets raked off, no weeds, no Kochia, no star thistle, no nothing, those pallets are-- It's important to remember that if you've got a building stacked eight pallets high, your bottom four pallets should be in really good physical condition because you don't want a domino ever.

Jeff: It's a bad day.

[laughter]

John: That's very bad.

Kim: The inspectors have now gone through your building and they've given you a clean bill of health, and you came up to, what did you say, the 6th of February or January and life starts getting crazy by starting to get them to California. How did that work this year, getting them out, getting them into, and working with--? Where did they go? Do you have holding area or did you go right to the orchards?

John: We go straight to the orchards. Pesticides have changed now, and they're not using methyl parathion. They're not using a lot of diazinon, they're not using some of those long-term pesticides anymore. Hygiene practiced in the orchard as a prevention, not as a remedial that is keep your orchard clean, you won't have nearly as many bugs. They practice two old stick tights per tree.

That's where the navel orange worm lives and raises their family, and they disperse into the orchard. If you've got two mommies per tree, that's the gold standard, your orchard is hygienic. I'm not likely to get sprayed in those orchards. Orchard growers are learning that the number two per hundred in beekeepers is also a really good standard. The number two practice by almond growers and the number two practice by beekeepers were finding each other. It's a safer place for me to be.

Yes, we go straight into the almond orchards. We have good relationships with a series of trucking companies, and they show up on time, and they deliver on time, or we just disperse them straight into the orchard.

Kim: You're there before bloom, ready to go, and as soon as it starts to bloom, how is the bloom look in this year?

John: It's really moving quick. Today, Saturday, the 11th, whatever today is.

Jeff: Friday.

John: Friday, thank you. Usually, we see popcorn on Valentine's Day, and it's here today now. Some orchards, Chico District is ahead of Woodland District, which is ahead of Modesto District, which is ahead of Madera District. It's coming pretty fast this year because it's been 75 degrees all week. It was just gorgeous down here. This is the kind of days that 50,000 people come to California, it's like, "This is where I'm going to live".

[laughter]

Kim: Does that mean then that the bloom is going to go faster?

John: Yes.

Kim: How does that affect yield?

John: A lot of times, what they call it syncing, and if the varieties are synced, then your Nonpareil, and your Padre, and your Carmel, they bloom together. Sometimes that can be a flash bloom. The variety seem to be synced this year, right now. Blue Diamond has an in the field, or maybe you saw them on the border California, has an in the field tab on their website, you can track the bloom. You have the progression, that's usually Mel Machado product.

Kim: That makes perfect sense. In another way, that's something that you mentioned a while ago is a clearinghouse for growers, finding bees and bees finding growers as a central location rather than everybody texting and searching. Is that on the horizon?

John: It should be. My little tribe is different from your little tribe and we don't text with that little tribe over there. That would be really useful to have a platform, something like Bees to Trees, something really tricky, spiffy. It would be good if there was a poster board there, just like there's 10,000 loads posted in California every single day. Truckers are free to choose which ones they take.

If there was a way to level that out, that'd be great. That'd be great. It'd be much more transparent. Well-functioning markets are transparent when you've got a market where 10% really want it unclear and clear over here on the other 10% is another 10% of the people that want it not clear for their own purposes, that's where you can get into not optimizing the resource. A Bees to Tree would be a cool thing, but I don't know who's going to do it, it's not me.

[audio playback]

[music]

BetterBee: Betterbee is pleased to sponsor today's episode of Beekeeping Today Podcast. For over 40 years, Betterbee has supplied beekeepers across the country with the tools, equipment, and knowledge needed to succeed. Because many Betterbee employees are beekeepers themselves, they understand your needs and challenges and are better prepared to answer your beekeeping questions.

From their colorful catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast, Betterbee truly lives up to their tagline of Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at betterbe.com.

[music]

[end of audio playback]

Kim: We just announced to the world that there's a need out there and there's a demand, and we need a supply to fix it.

John: There really is. I've never been the implementation guy. I'm just the guy who in the middle of the almond orchard and thinks, "Geez, if a way to link the grower and the beekeeper other than the coffee shop or my friend said, or I heard this on TV." Yes. That'd be more transparent.

Kim: Generalizing here in terms of looking at the orchards' old trees being taken out, new trees coming in, and all that comes down, how much water is there?

John: How much water is there and what are landowners prioritizing the water for? For example, in the Woodland District competition for tomatoes, because Woodland is such fabulous tomato country, but perhaps other crops that use water, wheat, corn, sunflowers in California, that acreage may go fallow long before a tree or a vine crop goes fallow. A tree is a three-year investment, your weed is a six-week investment.

Kim: Yes. Right. What are you looking at in terms of--? You got to ask and we've talked to a number of people about this, the self-fertile trees or those that are support-- and you take it another step. I've got an orchard or I've got a plot with these self-fertile trees and in theory they don't need bees, but if you put bees in, they do pretty well but if my neighbors got bees on all four sides of me.

John: Yes. Why ran any bees?

Kim: That's the question.

John: Yes, that's a new parasite in the industry. It's called Almond Dictis Parasiticus. It's where your next-door neighbor parasiticides your bees.

I don't know about that because there was a lot of spray about a guy who knocked down, there was a lot of conjecture over an operator that had a £4,000 crop and rented no bees when he happened to be in the Hughson area where I do a lot of work for Braden Farms. He should check his neighborly relationship monitor.

Kim: Have you heard much about hive theft this year? Is it up, down-

John: Yes, there's a little bit. Yes, Towser's got nicked again, but they caught the guys and the forklift that was stolen last year.

Kim: Outstanding. It's great.

John: Really. I heard Zach got nicked for 180, but I don't know if he got them back. More and more we're getting behind lock just can cut a furrow on the side the road that's 18 inches sharp deep and that will keep out thieves is still probably truth that more hives were stolen within a 100-mile radius of Sacramento, California than anywhere on Earth.

Kim: Because?

John: People that like steel bees tend to live in Sacramento County. That's about as far as I want to go.

Kim: All right.

John: This is off record. Jeff, just check the demographic.

Jeff: I was going to say the opinions expressed here are those of the speaker, not of the podcast. I'm just saying that.

John: I don't want to be an imbecile, I'm just saying high theft seems to be going down because almond growers recognize the investment they've make in those bees. They're taking some security issues. They're simple as pipe gate locked at dark.

Kim: Are you seeing any--? And right now this time of year and, or getting ready for later this season, growers putting essentially forage between rows of trees for the bees?

John: Yes. Kim, that's such a good question because Seeds for Bees is A project Apis m. has put a lot of emphasis on Seeds for Bees. Seeds for Bees can probably be most effective north of, say, Modesto where more rainfall occurs naturally. One of our farms is called Bull Light Farm in Woodland, California. They were early adopters and early contributors to seeds for bees, but they put their forage into the almond or into the walnuts, which was interesting because they're growing walnuts right next to almonds.

Once the bees have stripped the almond trees by about two in the afternoon, then they poured over to the Walnuts. The forage on walnuts and finish their day safely on bullseye property. They're not wandering two miles off getting into trouble in some other crop or some other place. It's anchoring, you call it, anchoring your bees.

Kim: That's good idea. Over the last year or so, we've talked to people who are working with growers and working with beekeepers in terms of inspection. There's the company that-- Jeff, what was the company that had infrared and they go into an almond orchard at night and they were shining an infrared camera at the pallets and measuring the frames of bees?

Jeff: Was it Beewise? I know there's BeeWare and BeeHero.

Kim: Beewise, that's it. Yes. [crosstalk] Are you seeing any of those people out there? Is it growing?

John: I see BeeHero and we saw a lot of Nectar. Nectar is a Canadian outfit. We worked with them extensively last year and I think they're working on an update to their software or the performance of their product or service.

Jeff: That's a monitoring product, isn't it?

John: Yes. I don't know about the thermal imaging. Ideally you'd like rip a thousand covers off this one mile-long orchard, but get the bees out from under the canopy of the trees and then just do a flyover with a drone and just take your photographic image down through the top bars, rather than looking through the hive body into the end bars. I'm not convinced, even though I was really keen about this about three years now, I'm not convinced that's the optimal way to measure high strengths.

It's so subjective. It depends on whether I owe the inspector $500 bucks from last year on my grading process this year. Grading is slippery stuff because it's in real time in a very narrow window that if you got good bees, it's not a problem. If you got lousy bees, there's no amount of fairy dust. You can sprinkle on that hive on the 10th February to make it better. You can shove emerging brew. You can do some things, but you need to be ready in September for February.

Kim: That seems to be the case everywhere. Okay. When will you pull your bees out of there? When will you be done about?

John: About March this year? Probably March 8th. Yes. Few days early. Usually March 10th, 12th, probably March 8th.

Kim: Three to four weeks from today then, about.

John: Yes, and they'll be busting. They're going to be so ready to be shaken.

Kim: Where do you take them once you pull them out of the orchards?

John: A bunch go to Washington state for the apples, where usually shut those once and then send them up. They're so much easier to manage. Some bees will just park in the golden triangle and different queen and package guys will come and shake them once, maybe twice. Then we'll take a bunch up into the foothills to make the spring loops.

Kim: One of the evolutionary changes that people are seeing in the bee industry in this country, and it continues on a day-to-day basis to not be the same as it was yesterday, but one of them is what you were just saying about shaking bees for package and new people. You're getting income from the extra bees that you raised on the almonds. They're taking them away. You're taking those bees and putting them on another crop. You're pollinating at least two, maybe three crops, plus you're shaking bees. Then you're going to go make honey and or you're going to go make more bees?

John: Yes. North Dakota's still a really big honey-producing state, but it's because we've honeybees people in that state by a lot. The quality of forage in North Dakota, the long-term trend there is more corn and more beans and fewer cows and fewer diaries. The profile of the forage abundance has changed up there a lot. There's been some nice research done out of Jamestown in North Dakota, Clint Otto, Chip Buhlis both did very nice research showing that the landscapes changed. It's not nearly as productive as it used to be.

Kim: Massive prize. What do you think? I don't know. I'm left field here. The honey market's going to be changing probably with the tariffs that are coming in and those tariffs are aimed at the biggest countries that are importing honey, are exporting honey to us. What gut feeling, how is that going to affect what you're doing? What the other beekeepers that are honey producers going to--? What's that going to do to them? I'll paraphrase that because I'll go back to earlier, we were talking about the evolution of the industry it's gone from pollination and honey to pollination and bees and some honey, maybe.

John: That's true.

Kim: This tariff thing going to turn that around?

John: No. Anytime you introduce an artificial market barrier or create a disruption it's like pushing on a balloon and you push on the balloon and this place gets compressed, but this area pops out bigger. As long as people have been gaming international trade, nothing's going to change, it'll just pop up somewhere else. I regret that's the way it is because this is hard for some people, honey producers that rely on honey production for their livelihood. This is hard on them. The bloodless truth is there's more money being made in pollination than there is in honey production with the exception of the local sideline or hobby producer. Who's able to sell his honey for what it's worth. Big industrial operations are--

Kim: One of the evolutionary things that this industry seeing then is that with wintering, you said there is a, something like a million hives being wintered indoors. That's probably not going to go down anytime soon.

John: Oh no. There are new buildings coming out.

Kim: What that's going to do in the long run, not even a medium run is reduce winter losses. That come next spring, you won't have a lot of beekeepers looking for a lot of bees because they'll actually have overwintered. That's going to change the face of things in terms of pollination bees and honey. If the honey market is disrupted and the wintering indoors is going to disrupt colony losses, I'm glad I'm not in the B business trying to figure this out.

John: I'm saying to the guys got the extracting building in GLE it's 18,000-foot building state of the art finest machinery available, got that thing and turned into a second indoor wintering and build bees in North Dakota and forget this honey production and the supers and the fixed cost and the labor cost and all the things that go into honey production. Do the efficient thing. Here's why, let me caveat. 40% of the almond acreage in the ground in California today is less than seven years old. There is a big wave of demand coming in the next three years for quality bees.

If I'm an Almond guy and I'm paying 225 for a beehive, I want to know what's inside those boxes. I'm going to find the good operators that are grading high, consistently grade high. The top 10 beekeepers are finding the top 10 almond growers and so forth. I just think there's a big opportunity out for the good operations. You can have a really 500 hive operation and send one semi load to really good bees to California. They'll find a market, they'll find a customer.

Jeff: Do you think that the pending or impending climate change and the shift of the almond orchards, maybe to Idaho or to other locations with moral water and climate suitability, how will that affect the B market? Or is that not a concern at this point?

John: Good question, Jeff. There may be some acreage in Southwest Idaho. An almond tree is deciduous. It needs 600 chilling hours every winter. It's okay with winter Southwest Idaho type of winter, I gave a talk about 15 years ago in SAC to the almond industry. I said to them I'd be really careful making their trees more adaptive to other climates, because I said, if you make it possible to grow almond trees in lots of places, almond trees will be grown in lots of places... pin-drop. [Laughter]

They're drilling on these self-fertile varieties and they also will find their place with a limited percentage of the acreage. These independence varieties, they have their own midlife crises where their productivity tails off. The flavor notes are a little off from the Nonpareil , still the number one farm away of replanted acreage is nonpareil supreme

Kim: Still, uh? That makes sense.

John: Neil Machado said, "I think it's still 65% of all the replant acreage." Then we got the Padres and Carmels, and a few Monterreys. There's nonpareil and everything else.

Kim: Well, what have we missed on all of this six-week explosion of activity?

John: It's just how vital good help is. Our H-2a guys were delayed, for a month, so it was 40 semis in 20 days by six people distributed. Fed, Paul and Patty in the middle.

Kim: Well, actually, you bring up another subject. Labor is not going down by any stretch of the imagination in the cost. All of the things that it takes to run your business, the percentage of inflation they're talking isn't astronomical, but it's notable. Where do you see that as short-term and maybe even long-term, but certainly short-term is going to be this season.

John: The department of labor sets the wages for the H-2A employees. It is a wage rate that has long been contested by the employers as not being an inaccurate reflection of wages. Then litigation goes on and on, but we are unable to attract domestic labor with multi-state advertising. We pick up our guys mostly come from Monterrey in Mexico and they mostly come from beekeeping families. Now the dad's getting older and he's staying home, but a son is coming or a nephew is coming. That's already pretrained by their uncle or their dad for how to keep bees. This has just been a lifesaver for us.

Kim: What did we miss, John?

John: I don't know. You treat those employees well and tell them we're hard on the first of July when we're all cut up on the first of July, "We'll fly you home for a couple of weeks. You'll be with your family, come back from August till the middle of November, get everything buttoned up, put together tight, and we'll see you in January." Some of those intangibles are valued by those guys. I have much respect for Jason and Ryan who now run Miller Honey Farms. They are more vested, and they invest more in employees and their well-being than I did. I think that's really important in these days.

Kim: Probably going to be more so. Have we missed anything, John?

John: No, it's just everybody out come out and just drive-- A guy one time, a guy called it a 400 mile long beeyard. Remember him? Everybody ought to drive the 400 miles long beeyard just once

Kim: I couldn't agree more. It was the best two weeks of my life, I think in terms of bees,

John: I just love this job. I've got the best job in the world and I'm not telling anybody.

Jeff: Well, John I think what we should do is, is plan a spring and we take our bicycles and ride the length of the almonds.

John: That would be cool.

Kim: I'll watch Jeff.

Jeff: We'll send you, we'll send you greetings from the road, Kim.

Kim: I could do that.

Jeff: Have you tried getting a Trek 520 lately? Like a touring bike?

John: Yes. I can't even get a bike chain right now.

Jeff: Keeping a bike. I'd love it. I think that's a keen idea.

John: We'll put that on. We'll put that in a reminder for next year or the next couple of years. We'll do it.

Kim: That'd be good. If I step away from bees, I'd read it love to, take old Highway 33 or old Highway 99 or the Santa Fe and you could ride that and not get killed.

Jeff: Well, that would be, a goal.

Kim: That would be a plus.

Jeff: Yes. Well, John, it's been wonderful having you back on the show as always, and you're always welcome back joy, reading your column in Bee Culture every month. We wish you the best this almond season.

John: Thank you, man.

Kim: Now that we know we can get you a pickup, we'll probably be on your doorstep more often,

John: Guys. You're always welcome. You're always welcome. Come on down.

Kim: It's been good, John. Thanks. Good luck with the rest of this season.

John: Thank you. Thank you. We'll see you guys soon.

Jeff: Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.

John: Bye, Jeff.

Jeff: It's always a pleasure talking to John and catch him in the cab of his truck. I don't know, where was he pulled over? It looked like at a cafe or something.

Kim: Something. I'm not sure, but the fact that it worked pretty well puts a nice spin on it because we've got him in the middle of an almond orchard someplace and he's talking almonds and bees and we get to listening on. It's like sitting in a restaurant and listen to the beekeepers and the growers talk, which I was able to do a few years ago. It sounds like it's going good in this overwintering thing. There is the future. There's no doubt.

Jeff: That really is appealing. I wonder if there's any difference. I was going to ask him, but we'll save it for next time. I know that some people are trying to rent out their vegetable warehouses to beekeepers. I wonder if there's any difference in the effectiveness between a converted vegetable warehouse for bees versus a warehouse that's been designed specifically for warehousing bees.

Kim: Well, I've heard a couple of instances where that was done. You got to convert the vegetable thing to do bees. You got to have the right CO2 and you have the right temperature and you got to have the lights right. Building a building for bees or converting a building for bees, what you end up with is a building for bees or you got a bunch of dead bees.

Jeff: Well, I'd be curious if someone tried to just move the bees into an empty space because it's "warehouse". Anyways, I thought for a future show.

Kim: I was interested in the inspection process. I was hoping that some of those people that we talked to earlier would have made a bigger dent in this but as many people overwintering and buildings and having them inspected before they even get to California, I can see that the handwriting on the wall is that that's probably going to be the future.

Jeff: You want to correct something for our listeners, is that we are wondering about the thermal imaging and that was the Bee Corp with Ellie Symes and company doing thermal imaging of the bees. I think we mentioned Bee Wise or something else. Anyways, that was the Bee Corp with thermal imaging. Apologies for that.

Kim: I hope it works for much smaller operations that don't get the winter indoors that come from the Midwest or the south.

Jeff: We'll have to have them back. See how their season went. That about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcast. Wherever you download and stream the show, your vote helps other beekeepers find this quicker. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage.

As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast. We want to thank our regular episode sponsor, Global Patties. Check them out at www.globalpatties.com. We want to thank Strong Microbials for their support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. Thanks to Betterbee for joining us as a supporter. Check out all of their supplies at www.betterbee.com. We want to thank Northern Bee Books for sponsoring Kim's e-books old and new. We hear that on a regular basis here on the podcast.

Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast's listener for joining us on the show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at questions@beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?

Kim: I think that about wraps it up, Jeff. I'm exhausted from all the running we did with John.

Jeff: [laughs]. It was a good show. Thanks a lot, everybody.

 

John Miller Profile Photo

John Miller

CEO Miller Honey Farms

Miller's Honey Farms, Inc. is a family run beekeeping business of over 123 years in beekeeping providing pollination service and honey production.

John is an active advocate of honey bees and all pollinators, including the Nature Conservancy and several state beekeeping organizations. John currently serves as CFO for Project Apis m. and a board member for Bee Informed Partnership and a board member for a local economic development association. John is also a two-term chair of the National Honey Board

John is also the highlight and subject of the book, "Beekeeper's Lament" by Hanna Nordhaus and a partner in En-R-G Foods, manufacturers of honey-based energy and protein bars, and chews bars sold under the name of HoneyStinger.

You can read John's monthly column in Bee Culture Magazine!