Nov. 8, 2021

The All Important Almond Season with Dr. Brittney Goodrich (S4, E21)

The All Important Almond Season with Dr. Brittney Goodrich  (S4, E21)

We welcome back Dr. Brittney Goodrich, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California, Davis. Brittney joined us originally on October 5, 2020 to talk about her research on the importance of . Today, she joins us to discuss...


BrittneyWe welcome back Dr. Brittney Goodrich, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California, Davis. Brittney joined us originally on October 5, 2020 to talk about her research on the importance of Almond Pollination contracts. Today, she joins us to discuss just how the success (or lack thereof) of the almond pollination season impacts the rest of the nation’s beekeeping for the year.

Here is a truth: No matter how large or small your operation is this year, almond pollination in California is going to have some effect on how your season goes.

Almond PollinationAlmond pollination uses about 90% of available honey bee colonies each spring, and many, many of those colonies are used later for queen production, package shaking, nuc and split production and make in honey later in the season.

Almond pollination affects colonies in orchards in many ways. Primarily - colony health. Almond pollen is a rich source of food for these bees, so that helps, but because 90% of US bees are in just a few counties of California, every colony out there has a good chance of catching whatever any colony within flight range has . Almond season has the real potential to become a superspreader event.

Almond pollination WILL affect your beekeeping next season. Be as ready as you can for all that can happen.

Links and websites mentioned in this podcast: 

Honey Bee Obscura

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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 ensure 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! 

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Transcript

S4, E21 – The All Important Almond Season with Dr. Brittney Goodrich

[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 am Kim Flottum.

Introduction: 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: Thanks, Sherry, and hey thank you Global Patties. Each week we get to talk about how much we appreciate our sponsor support and you know we'd rather get right to talking about beekeeping. However, our super sponsors are critical to help making all of this happen from the hosting fees to software, to hardware to the microphones, recorders, the speech lessons, everything they enabled each episode. I'm just getting on the speech lessons, Kim.

With that, thanks to Bee Culture Magazine for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture's has been the magazine for American Beekeeping since 1873. Subscribe to Bee Culture today. We also want to thank our partnership with 2 Million Blossoms. 2 Million Blossoms is evolving and keep track of them on the website at www.2millionblossoms.com and check out the 2 Million Blossoms podcasts also available from the website. Hey, everybody. Thanks for joining us. We are truly happy you are here. Hey, Kim, this fall is just crazy. It's been raining and it's always a difficult time of year for me in November. I just don't know what to do with myself. I want to be outside, but it's raining. It's miserable weather. What can a beekeeper be looking forward to?

Kim: Well, I've been planting tulips.

Jeff: All right. Besides planting tulips. Actually, that's a good idea. I should be planting spring bulbs.

Kim: It's the time of year to plant spring bulbs and I got my order in and getting it. You know there's things you got to be doing and-- You're raining. I'm not raining. I got a little bit of rain now and then. Slacked off this fall over the summer, but stuff inside, you got to be doing fixing, repairing, replacing, those sorts of things. You know what that leads me to. You take a look at the bigger picture of buying things out there and getting stuff from Los Angeles to Ohio is taking longer and longer and longer and costing more and more and more.

I'm hearing some businesses are beginning to look at-- that actually put out catalogs, hard copy catalogs of not including prices. They're including price lists that can change periodically. If I was putting out a hard copy catalog, I think I might look at that. You can fix things on the web pretty fast. If you're looking to buy something this year, I'd probably double-check the web and the catalog and maybe even call the company to make sure that the prices you're seeing are current so that you don't come up short and have to wait even longer because it's taking long, long, long time to get stuff.

Jeff: Yes it is. We're not just talking about products stuck on containers and container ships. We're talking about just in a truck and finding that they were having difficulty finding truck drivers who are going from one part of the state to another state even. Then, in an upcoming episode, we'll be talking to Cliff Struhl of Bee Smart Designs. When we were talking to him, he did say that even some of the raw components for creating plastic is becoming hard to come by and that pricing for that is even going up.

I don't know yes. Looking forward better save some pennies because equipment's going to be more expensive in the springtime.

Kim: Well, it probably will be. That's the thing. If you're going to bet on it, I'd bet that prices are going up just because the suppliers are having to pay more to get it there.

Jeff: Maybe do what they say is if you see something and it's available, buy it now because it may not be there later.

Kim: That thing about truck drivers you just mentioned probably is going to have something to do with what we're going to talk about today is getting almonds from Ohio to California or getting bees to almonds in California from Ohio because a lot of bees go out on commercial trucks.

Jeff: That's a great segue because coming up we have Brittney Goodrich from UC Davis talking to us again about her research into almond pollination contracts. What a resource of knowledge she is.

Kim: She is an and not only contracts. She's talking about availability. When we were setting this up, one of the things that she mentioned was how much effect almond pollination has on hobby beekeepers relative to the cost and availability of packages and nucs and queens. If you're two colony hobbyists sitting somewhere in Tennessee, those guys out in California are going to affect what you do next season.

Jeff: As we're talking before we started recording, that's a 3,000-pound gorilla sitting right there that affects the entire industry for the season.

Kim: Yes.

Jeff: All right. Well, let's get into our talk with Brittney but first a quick word from our friends at Strong Microbials.

[music]

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Jeff: Hey and while you're at the Strong Microbials' site, make sure you click on and subscribe to The Hive,their regular newsletter full of product information and beekeeping facts. Hey, everybody. Welcome back and sitting cross the virtual Zoom table right now is Dr. Britteny Goodrich. Dr. Goodrich has been with us in the past talking about almond pollination and almond pollination contracts. Britteny, welcome back.

‪Brittney Goodrich: Thanks for having me.

Kim: It's good to see you again, Brittney. Just for those of you listening who aren't familiar, Brittney is the Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist at UC Davis. Almond pollination seems to have found Brittney and Brittney seems to have found almond pollination. That's what we're going to talk about today. She's just released a paper on the economic outlook and other considerations of pollination coming up looking at the past and predicting what the future is going to be and why it's important. Brittney, I think this is important. Why would a hobby beekeeper want to know about almond pollination predictions? What's in it for the hobby beekeeper in Ohio that's going to come out of what you're working with out there in California?

Brittney: That's a good question, Kim. I guess since the last time we spoke on here I've actually become a hobby beekeeper myself. I now have one hive that I'm keeping alive at this point.

Kim: Outstanding.

Brittney: Anyways, so I know the struggles of beekeeping now.

Jeff: You're listening to a fantastic podcast on how to get started in beekeeping and all about beekeeping.

Brittney: Yes. I listen to you guys regularly and the Honey Bee Obscura Podcast as well just because I have no idea what I'm doing, so I'm trying to figure it out.

Jeff: Thank you and we didn't pay you for those plugs, so we appreciate it.

Brittney: Almond pollination is incredibly important to the entire beekeeping industry in the US including hobby beekeepers. There's a couple of reasons that it's important to a hobby beekeeper. The first and biggest one is that pretty much every commercial beekeeper in the US is participating in almond pollination at this point. We use something around 90% of colonies here in the US and that includes hobby beekeepers' colonies in there as well.

We're utilizing a very large percentage of commercial colonies which means that for hobby beekeepers, you're typically going to purchase your queens or your packaged bees from some commercial beekeeper whether it's here out of Northern California or there's some in Georgia or elsewhere. Chances are those queen breeders and those package producers are actually participating in almond pollination, so that can be important for a number of reasons. Almond pollination income is now-- I'm pretty sure it outweighs income from honey production for commercial beekeeping operations. How your queen breeder package producer fares in terms of their revenues and their income from almond pollination is really going to impact just the economic sustainability of that queen and package producer.

It's also going to impact the health of the queen and package producers' colonies that they're producing those queens, they're selling the package bees to you, chances are, they're taking their colonies out to almond pollination. Those colonies are building up because almond pollen is a very good protein source for bees and so then they're taking those bees that are now ginormous colonies, and they're shaking them out and getting packaged bees to you.

Really what happens during almond pollination, the pesticide exposure, if the colonies are re-exposed to varroa mites from somebody else's colonies, that's really going to impact the health of the queen breeding operation. Just not only the colony health but also their economic sustainability as well.

Jeff: Almond pollination goes, so does the rest of that season.

Brittney: Yes.

Jeff: If they do well, then the package producers will do well, and have a lot for the hobbyist beekeepers.

Brittney: Yes.

Jeff: If they do poorly, then hobbyist is going to pay more for packaged bees.

Brittney: Right, exactly. I'm from Iowa originally, and I was actually just back there visiting this summer. Someone came up to me, and I'm from a very small town, and said, "Hey, you know about almond pollination. My friend just told me that he's a beekeeper, and he takes his bees out to almonds and he puts them in my pasture for the summer months for honey production." I'm like, "Yes, that's pretty standard at this point."

Basically, it's like, anywhere you're at in the US, you're probably going to be somewhere around a commercial beekeeper that has participated in almond pollination and one of the big things that I think the industry is aware of and is dealing with is that you have virtually all of the honeybee colonies in the US in a few counties in California at the same time, which means varroa mites that were from some beekeeper in New York, they're going to jump and mix with all of the other bee colonies that are out there because they're all within flying distance of one another.

Really, it's like your colonies could actually be directly affected by somebody returning from almond pollination if they've picked up varroa mites or some other pest or disease issue and your colonies interact with them, then they're going to be directly affected as well.

Kim: Britney, I can add a little bit to that, and just from the hobby beekeepers' perspective is that because of the income from almond pollination, commercial beekeepers are looking real hard at, "Am I going to produce honey or am I going to produce bees for pollination next year?" and the tide has turned.

Commercial industry is gradually producing more bees than honey, which is going to affect all sorts of things in the honey market and if you're playing in that at all, you're going to feel the effect of that, so it affects the hobby beekeeper going to the farm market, it affects the side liner who's selling at a small grocery store, and certainly the commercial beekeepers.

Brittney: Yes.

Jeff: You were describing that how all the colonies are basically within a several-county circumference there, and all I could think of is relating it to the current super-spreader event. You have all these with the varroa. It's basically a honeybees varroa a super spreader event is the almond pollination.

Brittney: Yes, basically. I've heard a lot of beekeepers talk about if we could only get everyone to treat while we're in almonds so that everybody treats varroa at the same time and then maybe that would miraculously cure everything. I don't know. I'm not an epidemiologist, but it sounds reasonable.

Jeff: Well, very good. That's really important to understand how important and how that all ties into the regular beekeeper sitting wherever they sit, whether they may not be in almond pollinations, but their nucs or their packages they get in the spring, more than likely had their start in the California almond orchards.

Brittney: Yes, definitely.

Jeff: Very good. Well, thank you for that background.

Kim: You started out, you measured what is and are predicting what's going to be? How big is the almond industry? How many acres are we talking of total acres, and then did you have total acres and then producing acres?

Brittney: I think I only have bearing acres in there. Let me step back for those of you who aren't familiar with the almond industry. Basically, you plant young trees, and it takes them about three to four years to get to an actual bearing age where they produce a sufficient amount of nuts. Any trees that are less than three years are typically not going to have honeybee colonies placed in those orchards because it's actually bad for the trees because if they produce too many nuts at a young age, then it damages the tree.

What I always talk about in the outlook for upcoming almond pollination is just I strictly look at bearing acres for the most part and so right now we're at about 1.3 million bearing acres of almonds in California and so that's maybe the biggest crop in terms of acreage in California. It's certainly in terms of value. I think almonds and the dairy industry in California switch back and forth every year for the top one or two in value, but the almond industry is a big player in California agriculture.

Something that I think a lot of people may not think about is that we always think as beekeepers or in the beekeeping industry we think about almond pollination, as I think it's called, like the Super Bowl of beekeeping or whatever they've called it. In terms of world almond production, California is the primary player. They produce 80% of almonds that are consumed worldwide, so it's really just a big industry altogether. They're utilizing so many of the bee colonies in the US, but they're also producing pretty much any almond that you eat, especially here in the US, but even throughout the world is coming from California's orchards.

Kim: Well, just to take a half a step back. 1.3 million acres of bearing and because crop insurance companies require growers to use at least two colonies per acre to get maximum fruit set, nut set. Let's see if my math holds up. 2.6 million colonies?

Brittney: Yes.

Kim: Are there that many bees in the US?

Brittney: There are. You guys know that the number of honeybee colonies fluctuates throughout the year. In terms of trying to look at the most relevant number for almond pollination, the USDA does report the number of bee colonies on January 1st of each year. I believe last year, at January 1st, there were about 2.9 million colonies. Last year, the estimated demand was right around 2.6 million colonies with rounding. 2.6 million colonies out of 2.9 million that are out there and available.

Kim: Well, I'm going to bet that both the California and the Midwest drought this year are going to have some role in not only almonds but the beekeepers who rely on the plants that didn't get rained so they can make honey so they can grow. What do you see the drought in the US this year playing?

Brittney: Yes, so there's a couple of [laughs] different roles. When you say drought and almond pollination, there's two ways that it's going to affect the almond pollination market. The first one is through just the drought. The ongoing drought here in California has really made water scarce, which means there's some uncertainty about how much water is going to be available for almond growers in the future. Then you have to play this game where you're looking into your crystal ball and trying to figure out what almond growers are going to be doing, whether they're going to be planting more orchards, or they're just going to say almonds are too thirsty of a crop and I could plant something else that's an annual crop that doesn't require as much water every year.

There is some uncertainty with going forward how that's going to impact the almond industry in general. There's also some issues with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act here in California. That was implemented quite a while ago in 2014, but it's really just starting to take effect. That's basically just limiting groundwater extraction in some of these basins that have been extracted at unsustainable rates. That is limiting water even more for growers and will continue to limit it into the future because I believe they have up to 20 years to get to these sustainable groundwater rates. That's a big one that's impacting the industry going forward.

Kim: You've got growers right now holding their breath, "Will there be enough water and will there be enough bees?"

Brittney: Yes.

Kim: I think I'm not going to go into the almond growing business, Jeff. It's a little bit more challenging than I want. What's all of this got to do? Not enough water, so maybe fewer trees. Maybe enough bees, maybe enough-- What's that got to do with rental prices this year?

Brittney: That's the million-dollar question.

Kim: I bet you it's more than that.

Brittney: Yes, it's more than that for sure. We have a relatively good measure about how many acres were harvested in September, in this fall, but we don't exactly know how many acres-- I've heard that some orchards may be actually ripped out after harvest this year just because they're-- Just exactly like you said, Kim, they're like, "I'm out of this. I don't want to deal with not having water and almond prices haven't been that great over the last year." They finally rebounded, so things are looking a little more promising for growers. It's still a little uncertain how many acres will actually be ripped out between basically harvest and almond pollination in February.

That's up in the air. The other big factor of these droughts that is more than likely going to have some impact on the almond pollination market is the drought, especially in, like you mentioned, the Upper Midwest area, so North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana. That has a big-- As you both know, if there's not any rain in North Dakota, South Dakota area, that's where a majority of our commercial beekeepers are taking their colonies for honey production every year. Honey is obviously a much better food source than feeding sugar syrup or artificial pollen patties or whatnot.

It's affecting the beekeepers in a number of ways. First and foremost, they're not producing as much honey, so that takes out some of their revenues that they were planning on getting. The beekeepers in this area are having to feed their colonies, which increases their costs. Then also they're feeding the colonies. It's not a perfect substitute for natural honey. The bee colonies actually coming out of that area are more than likely going to be of lower health and potentially have higher winter mortality rates this coming year, which means colony strength requirements are harder to meet for almond pollination and beekeepers just have fewer colonies to rent out.

It has the potential to actually increase prices, increase the pollination fee just if there is an effect of the drought on colony mortality and colony health in general. There's potentially a fee increase, especially, I foresee it happening closer to when almond bloom actually happens as we start to realize how many colonies are available. There is a potential for people to be scrambling at the last minute trying to find colonies just because the beekeepers weren't able to provide what they had planned on, essentially.

Jeff: Is there an incentive for beekeepers to hold back their colonies to wait till the price goes up?

Brittney: Yes. Actually, that was one of the things that I wanted to learn about. Some of the stuff that I think we'll get into in a little while, but I did a survey last year, basically, of commercial beekeepers who participated in the 2021 almond pollination. I asked them this question, "How many colonies do you hold back?" I think I should have separated this question out a little bit. I said, "How many do you typically hold back, either to wait for higher prices or just simply as having a reserve of colonies in case you do have high winter mortality rates?"

Only about 13% of the beekeepers that responded said that they just rent out 100% of their colonies in advance. A very small portion of people rent out 100%. There were about 11% of beekeepers that waited until the last minute until right before almond pollination, but the majority of beekeepers, actually, would rent out 90% of their colonies and keep back 10% of their colonies to make sure that they could fill their contracts. You make a very good point that there is the potential that you could just wait until the last minute and get a higher price.

At least I'm a very risk-averse person, so if it were me, I would not do that because you could also run the risk of there's way too many colonies in California right now, so the price actually goes down. You could see downside risk as well.

Jeff: A bird in the hand is better than--

Brittney: Right. A lot of these pollination agreements are based on long-term relationships between either the beekeeper and the grower or the beekeeper and the pollination broker. I've heard this a lot where the beekeeper, maybe they could charge a higher price to their grower, but they've been working together for 20 years, so maybe they're not going to do that because then that ruins the relationship. There are trade-offs for sure.

Sponsor: 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 betterbee.com.

Kim: Some of the people that we've talked to in the past year or so play a role here. One of them is, and, Jeff, you're going to have to help me remember the group of people who are working with lots and lots of beekeepers are a central agency, not so much a broker, but they're doing all of the work for the beekeeper. Then there's that group of people who are inspecting colonies using, I want to say, infrared at night. Those two groups of people I imagine are evening things out because there's a per-frame basis rental goes on.

Those two groups of people, I'm pretty sure are beginning to level the playing field, I guess you'd say, between beekeepers and growers. That sound about right?

Brittney: Yes, I would say so. I know that there's some folks that are looking into other sorts of monitoring devices for bee colonies, whether it's monitoring at the entrance or I'm forgetting what the other technologies are. There are definitely technologies that are meant to connect the beekeeper and the grower even more. The grower could be in December checking on hives in Florida from an app on their phone so that they can see what actually the bee colonies look like.

If it's an accurate representation of what's actually going on in the bee colony, it sounds like a great thing. I think that's the problem and that's what a lot of researchers are working on is trying to figure out how you actually tell how a colony is doing by what we can monitor with these apps.

Jeff: Kim, we've had a couple of guests. You're talking specifically on infrared was The Bee Corp when we had Ellie Symes on, back in Season 3, Episode 37. That was really interesting. They just walked by with a thermal and infrared camera and able to size and qualify the hive. Secondly, just recently, we had Beewise on. We had Saar Safar on talking about Beewise, and with the automated robotic bee hut or Beehome, as they called it. There would be an automated way to determine the size and capacity of that colony, as well.

Jeff: I can see in the future if I was a grower, and I wanted to work with a beekeeper, I like what you were saying about being able to monitor colonies in Florida if I'm in California. I can see where that might become standard issue here. I want 20% of your colonies monitored and I want to be able to watch them over the course of the winter so that we're all on the same page, I guess you'd say.

Brittney: Yes, because I think it's one of the issues is that growers don't actually know what's going on. It's hard for them to see. If they haven't been a beekeeper before, they don't know what a good colony looks like. They're not going to go and obviously open up that colony once it's in the almond orchard unless they're pretty brave. It's one of these things where increasing the communication between the beekeeper and grower is just super useful for some of these relationships.

Kim: For any crop you were working with too?

Jeff: Like you said, it comes down to it being a relationship and trusting each other. Just before we go on, and I do want to qualify this because I don't think we've mentioned in this episode when you say hive, we are defining a hive as eight frames, correct? Not just the box.

Brittney: Right.

Jeff: Define a hive.

Brittney: For the most part, yes. In some of the survey work that I've done, by far in the industry, an eight-frame colony is the standard requirement for almond pollination, but there are different requirements. You have some variation on that where growers will want a six-frame colony because it's cheaper, or they want a 10-frame colony that's really large and going to pollinate really well. For the most part, yes, I'm talking about eight-frame colony.

Kim: That's eight frames of bees and brood in a 10-frame box.

Brittney: Yes. Sorry.

Jeff: It sounds like we're a podcast full of attorneys here.

[laughter]

Kim: There's another side of this, though, and it looks at what beekeepers have to deal with. That's the pesticide issue because trees are sometimes sprayed when there are bees in the trees and it's not a clear issue. The way they're labeled and the organisms that they're chasing. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Brittney: Pesticide exposure is an issue whenever beekeepers place their colonies in or around agricultural areas. In almonds, the industry because they use so many of-- 90% of the bee colonies in the US, they've been pretty aware that they need to protect bee health. They don't want to be out there killing colonies that are potentially pollinating their orchards either. There's an incentive for them to self-regulate and make sure that they're doing the right thing with pesticides.

The problem with doing that in the almond industry goes back to basically how EPA monitors pesticides and labels pesticides for outdoor use. This goes to some research that I've done with Dr. Jennie Durant and some others. If I'm a grower, I'm not going to apply insecticides in my almond orchard typically because that insecticide is oftentimes going to be labeled as bee-toxic. The problem with almonds is that growers typically need to be applying fungicides in February because fungicides protect against mold and that sort of thing. In normal years, it rains, hopefully during January and February, so almond growers are really needing to apply these fungicides.

A lot of times because fungicides are not an insecticide, they're not highly toxic to bees, and they oftentimes don't have a label as according to how the EPA does things. What that means is that growers can still apply these fungicides in the almond orchards when the bees are there and the almond orchards are in bloom. These fungicides can have sub-lethal impacts on colonies, where you have problems with brood development, or the queen is less productive. You oftentimes don't notice these sub-lethal impacts of the pesticide until a few weeks out.

This has been a problem in the industry. Especially with some of these fungicides, the growers want to apply these fungicides as cheaply as possible. Sometimes they tank mix them together. They put two different chemicals in the same tank so that they can just apply them all in one pass. Then sometimes those pesticides become synergistically more toxic than what's on their label. Then bees end up being either killed or sublethally affected by some of these pesticides.

It's certainly an issue that beekeepers need to be aware of and have to deal with when they're doing almond pollination. Because there's this awareness that some of these fungicides that are actually toxic to bees aren't being labeled as such, the Almond Board and the EPA and a number of other people came together and put together the Honey Bee Best Management Practices for when bees are in almonds. Part of those best management practices is recommending that growers only apply any type of pesticide if they have to. It's going to only be applied in the evening or at night when bees aren't flying and not tank-mixing pesticides, and certainly not applying insecticides if at all possible during almond bloom.

Kim: You know, Jeff, I'm going to date myself here. This goes back 40 years ago when I was doing apple spray research. We had a chemical that, a fungicide, that I could put on apple trees all day long, and it wouldn't bother bees. We had the spreader-sticker that we used that I could put on the tree all day long and not bother bees and when I put them in a tank together, it killed every bee in the bunch. This isn't a new problem. These guys should have been-- I think they should have been looking at this.

Brittney: It's definitely-- In this survey that I did of beekeepers last year, I just asked, "Have you had a lethal pesticide exposure in the last two pollination seasons." from almonds specifically and, "Have you had a sub-lethal pesticide exposure in your colonies over the last two seasons?" About 20% of them said that they'd had a lethal kill in the last two pollination seasons and over half said that they had experienced some sort of sub-lethal exposure from pesticides when they're in the almond orchards.

It's certainly a very common issue. I think it's important for everyone to work together, whether it's the growers or pollination broker and beekeeper to make sure that the bees are being protected in the best way possible.

Kim: If everybody knows what's going on, you can avoid a whole lot of problems. I got to admit, Jeff, I got a colony sitting out there. It's worth in the neighborhood of $200 apiece. I've got 1,000 of them out of there. How many of them get stolen every year?

Jeff: I don't know. You tell me.

Kim: I don't know but, Brittney, have you got a feel for theft?

Brittney: Yes. This was something that we hear about it a lot. There was the big bee heist a few years back. This was something that we also asked beekeepers if they had an experience with colony theft in the last two pollination seasons, and about 21% of the beekeepers said that they had colonies stolen in the last two seasons. It's increasing in occurrence. It makes sense because you have again, all of the bee colonies in the US and these nine counties in the Central Valley and so then you also have all of the beekeepers there with all their equipment. A beekeeper can go out and for $200 per colony without having to put any inputs into it other than just going and picking it up from somebody else's orchard and putting it in another one. It's pretty lucrative to actually steal some of these colonies. I'm not obviously promoting it, but there's an economic reason why this is happening.

Jeff: Economically speaking, there is.

[laughter]

Kim: $800 a pallet.

Brittney: Right, it's--

Kim: You got a truck and a forklift and you pick them up, you take them down the road 40 miles, you rent them to the grower, and you disappear with the money. At the end of the season, the grower ends up with pallets of bees that nobody owns. It gets real messy at the end. I can believe that. Brittney, I'm sure every one of these beekeepers has some sort of contract. It may be a handshake because I've been working with this guy for 20 years, but most of them haven't. When do contracts get signed? That puts pressure on the beekeeper to I'm going to deliver this many colonies on this date. Now I got to make sure I got this many colonies. How does that work?

Brittney: This was something that I really didn't have a good feel for. Before doing this survey, I wasn't really sure when beekeepers were actually agreeing to it. I've been to the California State Beekeepers Association meetings, and I know that they talk about it every year, but then I've wondered how many of these are taking this information and then going and settling their contracts versus how many people had already settled them at the time.

What I found was that the majority of beekeepers, so over half of them, actually settled their largest agreement between December and February, in those last three months before almond pollination. Only about a third settled from September to November, and 9% settled their agreement before September. Just sometime during the summer, those would be the earliest ones. There's a range, but the majority are waiting until December, January, early February to figure out what their pollination agreements are going to be.

Kim: I'm going to wait until I take the bees out of the building before I count them. Exactly. Brittney, this has been great. We're running short of time. I've got one more question for you. There's a new almond variety on the market, Yorizane. It's supposed to be completely self-fertile. What's this going to do?

Brittney: It remains to be seen. The Independence variety is the most popular self-fertile variety out there right now. That has been the talk of the beekeeping industry and the almond industry for a number of years now, but still, I think there's only around 50,000 to 60,000 bearing acres compared to the 1.3 million. Roughly around 3% of almond acreage is in these self-fertile varieties at this point. It's going to be a long time, if any. I'm a little skeptical that these self-fertile varieties are going to take over the industry and make it so that beekeepers are not relevant for almond pollination anymore.

It should be noted, and I don't know about the specific variety that you're talking about, but at least for the Independence variety, they've shown that if you keep bees off of those self-fertile varieties, you actually have decreased yields. You get like a 20% yield bump from just having the bees doing pollination. Essentially, the growers, and I've seen this article, I think it was last week or something, maybe out of Western Farm Press, where this Independence grower said that he got 4,000 pounds per acre of almonds, which is a substantial yield and didn't have bees in his almond orchard. They concluded that this was great. You don't need bees for Independence, but nobody seemed to ask about how many bee colonies his neighbors put out.

[laughter]

Brittney: It's going to be interesting to see what happens because I suspect that the more self-fertile varieties that we have, the more colonies per acre the traditional variety growers are going to need because they're not putting out two colonies per acre. Then the Nonpareil growers, which is the main variety and the highest-quality variety, they may have to put out more than two hives per acre just to make sure that they're getting the economic yields that they need to make it work. It's a good question, and I'm interested to know what the outcome will be, but we'll see.

Kim: I was just going to ask if you like to play poker. This has been fun, Brittney.

Jeff: She's already stated she's low-risk.

Brittney: I'm very risk-averse, yes.

Jeff: Yes, risk-averse.

[laughter]

Kim: Brittney Goodrich, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist at University of California Davis, the almond expert. Brittney, thank you very much. This has been a lot of fun and very informative.

Jeff: Thanks a lot, Brittney.

Brittney: Thanks, Jeff and Kim.

Jeff: I sure enjoyed having Britney on the show and learning about the almond pollination. I guess the big takeaway for me was really the United States beekeeping year really does hinge on the success of the almond pollination and the bees in the California orchards in January, February.

Kim: You got it, exactly. Not just the commercial beekeepers that are out there pollinating, but pretty much everybody that's got bees in a box. Some places affected one way or another by how well or how bad it goes in California during almond pollination. I think that's only going to get more so as the more beekeepers are raising bees instead of honey, the honey crop, the honey market is going to change, I think in the long run, and I don't know what that's going to do to the price of honey because to fill the gap, imported honey is going to come in, and imported honey is cheaper than American honey.

Is that going to drive down the price for the people who are producing honey for a living? If that's what you do for a living, keep your eyes open because it's going to move.

Jeff: I think there'll always be a strong need for local honey, so there'll always be that market, but on a commercial basis, that's going to be a challenge. I can see some of my local sustainable beekeeper friends sitting there with their arms crossed saying, "There's another reason why I'm going to continue to raise my own queens and raise my own bees."

Kim: That's good. The other half of that equation, Jeff, is what Brittney just implied, though, is that the guy moving bees in mile a half down the road was in California two weeks ago, and now his bees and my bees are talking to each other. What's he sharing with me that he brought from California, that he got from the beekeeper next to him that was in North Dakota all summer. We're very nicely evenly dividing all of the problems.

Jeff: You so accurately describe my situation, is that within two miles of me a commercial sideliner drops his bees after every almond season and every winter.

Kim: Do you put up a fence?

Jeff: Did I put up a fence?

Kim: Yes.

Jeff: Yes, real tall one.

Kim: Brittney brought up a lot of good points. If you pollinate almonds for a living, there's some good information that you need to pay attention to there. If you don't, then there's different kinds of attention you need to pay because if you got bees in a box, almond pollination is going to do something to you this year.

[music]

Jeff: That about wraps up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download and stream the show. Your vote helps the other beekeepers find us 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 web page. 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 the support of the podcast. Check out their probiotic line at www.strongmicrobials.com. We want to thank Betterbee for joining us as our latest supporter. Check out all their great supplies at www.betterbee.com. Finally, and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener, for joining us on this show. Feel free to send us questions and comments at questions@beekeepintodaypodcast.com. We'd love to hear from you. Anything else, Kim?

Kim: I think that wraps it up, Jeff. It's been a good day.

Jeff: It sure has. Thanks a lot, everybody.

[00:50:12] [END OF AUDIO]

Brittney Goodrich

Assistant Professor of Cooperative Extension

Brittney Goodrich is an Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California, Davis. She grew up in a rural farming community in Iowa where uncertainty in agricultural production and marketing influenced family and friends on a daily basis, consequently leading to her current research interests.

Dr. Goodrich obtained a BS in Math and Economics at Iowa State University and Masters and PhD degrees in Agricultural Economics at University of California, Davis. Her research and extension program focuses on how California perennial crop growers and beekeepers address risk and uncertainty in their operations, enhancing the long-term sustainability of these industries.

A primary topic of interest is the use of contracts between almond growers and beekeepers in the almond pollination market, where the precariousness of honey bee colony health makes contracting practices important to grower and beekeeper profitability.