Thefts Continue to Trouble Beekeepers

AgAlert By Christine Souza February 20, 2019

Butte County Sheriff’s Deputy Rowdy Freeman checks on commercial apiaries in an almond orchard near Oroville. Freeman says law-enforcement agencies around the state have received reports of bee-colony thefts, suggesting potentially tight supplies of bees for pollination.  Photo/Christine Souza

Butte County Sheriff’s Deputy Rowdy Freeman checks on commercial apiaries in an almond orchard near Oroville. Freeman says law-enforcement agencies around the state have received reports of bee-colony thefts, suggesting potentially tight supplies of bees for pollination.
Photo/Christine Souza

For some commercial beekeepers, California's almond bloom ended before it officially started.

Early last week, Tulare County beekeeper Steve Godlin of Visalia learned that about 100 honeybee colonies he was managing had disappeared from an almond orchard west of Visalia.

"We got hit. It's a nightmare," said Godlin, who had been managing the colonies for a fellow beekeeper from North Dakota. "It's very discouraging, obviously, to get the bees this far to a payday and then have them stolen."

Citing a shortage of bees for almond pollination, which this year requires about 2.14 million apiaries for more than 1 million bearing acres of almonds, Godlin said the bees were likely stolen Feb. 10.

Deputies from the Tulare County Sheriff's Department Agricultural Crimes Unit also took a report of a likely related theft the next day: Just a few miles from the Godlin location, Gunter Honey reported a second theft of another 96 hives.

Godlin said 100 beehives would be valued at $20,000 for the bees alone and another $20,000 for the pollination services—and that to steal that many hives would require a one-ton truck and forklift. His advice to farmers?

"Know your beekeepers, and if you or anybody in the public sees somebody loading bees up in an almond orchard, call the police. That's not the way it works. Bees should be going into the almonds, not out," Godlin said.

Butte County Sheriff's Deputy Rowdy Freeman, who investigates rural and agricultural crimes, said a theft of 100 or 200 hives at a time would likely be committed by someone who is a beekeeper.

"They know what they are doing. They have beekeeping equipment. They know how to go in and take them and have the means to do it. It could be a beekeeper who lost a lot of hives and can't fulfill his contract. Desperation leads to theft, so they will steal the hives from someone," Freeman said, noting that other bee thefts had been reported already this year in Kern County and in Southern California, with a total of 300 hives lost.

"What we typically see is they steal hives from one area and then drive several hours to put them on a contract, because the people there won't necessarily know that they are stolen," Freeman said. "Almond growers need to know whose bees are going into their orchards, what markings are going to be on those hives, and if they see anything different, they need to report it."

Early this month, Freeman investigated reports of a small number of bees stolen from Butte and Glenn counties. He later recovered about half of the bees, after deputies spotted some of the stolen hives loaded onto a small utility trailer parked in a driveway in Biggs.

Two adults were arrested for the alleged crime and for felony possession of stolen property. The recovered bees were returned to the beekeeper-owner in Glenn County.

The sheriff's department said the suspects planned to place the hives in an almond orchard in exchange for payment for pollination services.

Freeman said smaller apiary thefts could be carried out by people who aren't beekeepers, but are just looking to make quick cash.

"In a recent case I worked, they saw an ad on Craigslist, and they responded to that and came to an agreement," he said. "The farmer doesn't know who they are really dealing with, and that guy comes out and drops off a bunch of boxes that look like beehives and the farmer is happy he has bees. But he doesn't look inside of them. One case, there weren't any bees in the boxes, and they weren't beekeepers."

Freeman, who also became interested in beekeeping after investigating a theft in 2013 and now maintains about 50 hives of his own, said the thefts this season are likely related to a limited supply of bees.

Whether or not almond growers will have enough bees remains to be seen.

Mel Machado, director of member relations for the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative, said he hadn't heard "any issues related to a shortage of bees."

Almond grower Dave Phippen of Travaille and Phippen Inc. in Manteca said one of the beekeepers he works with was unable to bring the truckload of bees that he had agreed upon, but was able to deliver 400 bee colonies for Phippen's almonds.

"I got what I needed, but just by the skin of my chinny-chin-chin," Phippen said, adding, "It's a challenge every year."

Phippen said he expects the cost of pollination services this year will be approximately $190 per colony.

"The trees are excited and trying to open," he said. "The weather's been cool, so it held them back, but with this warm storm, I'm afraid they are going to progress quicker than they have been."

Machado said it would take a while to gauge the impact of last week's rains on the almond bloom.

"We just don't know yet," he said.

Freeman offered suggestions for preventing bee theft:

Beekeepers should place bees out of sight and off the road, and mark hives, lids and frames with identifying information so that recovered bees can be traced back to the owner.

Growers paying for pollination services should verify that colonies in the orchard or field match with the contract they have with the beekeeper.

Though it is not cost-effective for every hive, beekeepers should strategically place GPS trackers in certain hives.

Beekeepers and farmers should maintain a close working relationship.

The California State Beekeepers Association offers up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for stealing bees and/or beekeeping equipment; information may be sent to calstatebeekeepers@agamsi.com.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Department asked anyone with information regarding the stolen apiaries there to contact its Agricultural Crimes Unit: 559-802-9401.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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Almond Growers Assess Impact of Freeze

California Farm Bureau Federation - Ag Alert     By Kevin Hecteman     February 28, 2018

Steve Van Duyn cuts into an almond blossom to check on its health in an orchard he manages southeast of Galt. Van Duyn says it will likely be harvest time—around mid-August—before the extent of frost damage will be known. Photo/Kevin Hecteman

Steve Van Duyn looked around an almond orchard he manages southeast of Galt on a chilly morning, surveying the effects of California's weeklong run of freezing weather. Several nights with temperatures dropping below freezing have Van Duyn and other growers concerned about their crops.

"We've sustained some damage," he said. "The full extent, we won't know for quite some time. In a few weeks, we'll know—we'll have a better guess—but we really won't know till harvest time."

Van Duyn said he'd been irrigating orchards each morning, to help warm the blossoming trees as much as possible. The deep freeze that struck the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys had many growers pulling all-nighters, trying to save their crops.

"It was unprecedented for just a number of years, as long as I can remember, that we were up every night, Monday through Friday night," said Ripon-based almond farmer David Phippen.

Mel Machado, director of member relations for the Blue Diamond Growers almond marketing cooperative, said reports from Glenn to Kern counties showed temperatures as low as the mid-20s, with many areas dropping to 31 to 33.

Though Machado and others can put numbers on the temperatures, they can't do the same to the 2018 almond crop just yet.

"Long story short, I can't walk into my brother's marketing office and say, 'Here's what the crop's going to be,'" Phippen said.

Reports of damage vary widely.

"Because of the stage of (bloom) development, because of whether you have water or not to apply, we will see fields that are virtually untouched adjacent to ones that are severely damaged," Machado said. "It's going to be that variable, and it's going to make it that much more difficult to really figure it out."

California farmers harvested 2.1 billion pounds of almonds on 940,000 bearing acres during the 2016-17 season, according to the Almond Board of California. The objective forecast for 2017-18 calls for close to 2.3 billion pounds.

The cold snap resulted from a shift in the weather pattern, said Jeff Barlow, a meteorologist in the Hanford office of the National Weather Service, who said weather systems had been "coming out of the Gulf of Alaska and dropping south across the Pacific Northwest and sliding into Northern California, and then coming across the Central California interior."

At the orchard Van Duyn manages near Galt—one of the almond, walnut and winegrape operations he oversees in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties—he said the third-leaf Independence trees produce 400-500 pounds per acre in a good year.

"So if we come in with a crop of between 400-500, I'd say we had negligible damage," Van Duyn said. "If we come in at 200-250, I'd say we had a 50 percent crop reduction."

Van Duyn found damaged blossoms in the orchard, but also found many that survived the freeze intact.

"Every morning, we're up here running the water from about anywhere from 10 o'clock at night to 2 in the morning starts, and running them all the way till 9 o'clock, 9:30 before it warms up," Van Duyn said.

That water is a crucial factor, said David Doll, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County.

"Most farmers rely on the use of water applications at a rate of 30 gallons per acre per minute," Doll said. "This will warm the orchard by 2-3 degrees, depending on the dew point and temperature. Farmers can also use wind machines, but this isn't as common" in almonds, he added.

Phippen said he's seen no crop damage so far around Ripon and Manteca, but orchards near Oakdale and Waterford weren't as fortunate. One 20-acre parcel owned and farmed by his son-in-law suffered severe damage, he said. Phippen added that he's guardedly optimistic about his crop, thanks in large part to the warm weather that set off the bloom earlier than usual.

"We've never had this much frost, so that would tell you this isn't stellar," he said, "but the bloom has been one of the nicest blooms I've ever seen. There's been a long dwell on the bloom. The concurrent pollination from one variety to the other has overlapped beautifully. We've had a lot of bee flight hours. There's not a lot to be said negative about the bloom period that we've had. It's just that we had this frost along with it."

Phippen said he thinks he'll know by the first of May how the harvest will shape up.

An almond tree's vulnerability to frost will depend on a number of factors, Doll said.

"As the tree progresses through bloom and into nut development, it becomes more sensitive to frost conditions," Doll said. "For example, the critical temperature at pink bud (beginning of bloom) is 25 degrees; at full bloom, it is 26 degrees; and at nutlet stage, it is 28 degrees. Extended periods at or below this temperature (greater than 30 minutes) will lead to crop loss."

Citrus growers in the southern San Joaquin Valley used wind machines and irrigation to fight the chill, according to California Citrus Mutual. With nearly half of this season's crop already harvested, growers were aiming to protect next year's crop, as the warmer temperatures earlier in the month caused the bloom to arrive early.

"The coming days will reveal if damage was incurred," Citrus Mutual said. "Growers are optimistic that if there is damage, the trees will have ample time to bounce back and push out another set of blooms this spring."

Warmer temperatures could reach the Central Valley this week, Barlow said, as two weather systems reach California.

"We are looking at anywhere from a half to 1 inch of rain in the valley, and then 1 to 2 feet of snow up in the high Sierra," Barlow said. "Then we go back to a warm and dry pattern for the weekend and into early next week."

Average high temperatures at this time of year, he said, would be in the low to mid-60s.

Average, of course, doesn't describe a year in which spring-like, short-sleeve weather was followed immediately by the forceful return of Jack Frost.

"My dad is almost 84 years old," Van Duyn said. "He doesn't recall a year like this."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

Beehive Thefts Add to Pressures at Bloom Time

California Farm Bureau Federation - Ag Alert    By Christine Sousa    February 10, 2016

Just as honeybees are being moved into orchards to pollinate the state's almond crop, thieves are stealing commercial beehives from roadside and bee yard locations, disrupting operations for beekeepers and almond growers whose trees are days away from bloom.

Kevin Sprague, whose family operates Sprague Apiaries in Yuba City, discovered early last week that 280 of his beehives were missing, as they were about to be moved into nearby almond orchards in Arbuckle. He estimated the loss at $100,000, which includes both pollination income and the overall value of the hives.

"The hives (marked with the company name, address and phone number) were stolen from two different locations along Highway 20, just east of Sutter," said Sprague, a third-generation apiarist. "The hives were visible from the highway and had been there all winter, so they (thieves) certainly had lots of time to plan. They came with two or three trucks and a couple of forklifts. They were organized."

Worried that he might be short of beehives for his almond grower client, Sprague said the company will check with other beekeepers to purchase any extra hives that do not yet have a home in the almonds. He said his concern is that a shortage of bees may be enticing thieves to steal hives.

"The bees are scarcer this year and this has driven up price, and then thieves try and make a quick dollar," Sprague said. "I've heard that they'll steal the hives, put them in the farmer's orchards and come and get the money. They will abandon the bees in the orchards; they just take the money and run."

The California State Beekeepers Association reported that during the week of Jan. 25, about 240 beehives owned by C.F. Koehnen & Sons of Glenn County were allegedly stolen from two bee yards, both located north of Colusa. The hives, lids, frames and pallets are branded with "42-14."

During the same week, Riverside County beekeeper James Wickerd of Happie Bee Co. reported that 210 of his beehives were stolen in Kern County. The boxes contain Wickerd's name, address and phone number, and the brand CA0330333H.

"The hives could be seen along the I-5 freeway. They came in with forklifts and took about 210 hives, valued at $50,000 plus," Wickerd said. "They can put them on pollination right now for $150 or more a hive, and then there is the value of the hive and the (honey) production losses for the year."

Wickerd added that the losses include "all of the work that has been put into them to keep them alive with feeding and medication and pollen to get them in the shape that they are in."

Sprague expressed the same concern, noting the investment of money plus thousands of hours devoted to building and caring for the hives: "We work on the hives all year to get ready for spring. It will take me the whole year to recuperate what we lost."

Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m., a Paso Robles-based organization that focuses on enhancing honeybee health, said beekeepers have worked very hard ever since the end of last year's pollination season, splitting colonies, increasing colony numbers and spending millions of dollars on supplemental feed to have sufficient, strong colonies available for the 2016 pollination season.

Beekeepers from California and across the U.S. have already moved about 1.8 million honeybee colonies into the state to pollinate the almond crop. Bee colony supplies are usually tight at this time of year, and observers said the added pressures of drought, lack of forage, and impacts from pests and diseases have made the difference in supplies even more pronounced.

Elina L. Niño, University of California, Davis, Extension apiculturist, noted in her latest university newsletter on apiculture that "the reports of failing colonies before the winter even started are numerous. This, combined with the much needed rainfall in California, might be driving the price of hive rental up to $200."

Wickerd said he has additional hives available to cover the contract with his almond grower client but added that, like other beekeepers, he will look at high-tech ways to protect his bees in the future.

"We're going to have to electronically protect them. If we have something that is high-tech that is connected to the satellite that can tell where the bees are, if the location of the bees changes, we can go find them," Wickerd said. "We're going to go to satellite, where it can be traced from a computer and at a long distance."

Sutter County Sheriff's Office Lt. Dan Buttler agreed beekeepers would benefit from implementing newer technology, such as use of global positioning systems or trail cameras, to protect their valuable bees and trace bees that are stolen.

"You can get lower-end GPS devices that are motion sensitive, and they can put those on the box. It would alert them that these boxes are being moved, so we could pick them off in transit," Buttler said. "Obviously, locked gates are always a good thing, surveillance is a good thing, and high-tech is a good thing."

Other tips for preventing bee theft:

  • Beekeepers should locate bees out of sight and off of the road, and mark hives, lids and frames with identifying information so that recovered bees can be traced back to the owner.
  • Almond growers and others paying for pollination services should verify that colonies out in the orchard or field match up with the contract they have with their beekeeper.

CSBA offers up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of persons responsible for stealing bees and/or beekeeping equipment; learn more at castatebeekeepers@hotmail.com.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=9297

Commentary: We Must Communicate the Facts About Water Use

AgAlert   By Mark Jansen   May 26, 2015

The headlines have been unavoidable. Almonds have been painted as our state's "thirstiest" crop, but what these stories lack is context. The management team from the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative has been collaborating with industry experts to communicate the facts about agricultural water use to the media and our urban neighbors.

According to a recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, "California's dams and reservoirs were never envisioned to release water year-round for environmental objectives such as aiding the delta smelt or reintroducing salmon in the San Joaquin River watershed. A majority of reservoir water once intended for households or farming is simply sent out to sea."

Clearly, our solution to California's water situation will require a collaborative effort among all Californians to find a solution that makes sense for everyone.

The drought debate continues as we enter the hot, dry summer of the Central Valley, with mandatory water restrictions now in place throughout our state. For many Californians, that means the drought will now affect their day-to-day lives. Millions of urban Californians will have to join agriculture in the fight to save water and push for storage to protect our future. Gov. Brown's mandate made it clear that all Californians need to do their part to conserve our most precious resource, and yet the media firestorm aimed at agriculture, and almonds specifically, has been fierce.

Our message has been simple: All food takes water to grow.

California's agricultural abilities are second to none. In fact, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, nearly half of our country's fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California. And CDFA reports that from 1967 to 2010, California agriculture has increased revenue and decreased total applied water use by 20 percent.

In order to achieve such an impressive statistic, access to a consistent water supply is key. The amount of water required for California farming to grow our food is only 40 percent of captured water, with environmental projects taking the majority at 50 percent. The often-quoted 80 percent ignores any water used for environmental purposes.

I have read suggestions that agriculture has been let off the hook by the governor's mandate. Here are the facts: In 2014, farmers received only 5 percent of their contracted State Water Project allocation and 0 percent from the federal Central Valley Project. This year, farmers are projected to receive 20 percent of State Water Project allocation and again, 0 percent of CVP water. Our farmers have been feeling the effects of this drought from the very beginning.

Some have questioned whether agriculture's economic impact justifies the amount of water used by the industry. The media points to agriculture's 2.8 percent share of the state GDP, but again, this figure lacks context. It does not tell the whole story. Getting our food from farm to fork involves an interconnected supply chain, undoubtedly contributing significantly more than 2.8 percent to the state's economy. The almond industry alone contributes 104,000 jobs to California, 97,000 of which reside in the Central Valley, and more than 37,000 additional jobs throughout the supply chain.

Speaking of almonds, there are 9 million acres of farmland in California and almonds account for 12 percent of that total, while only using 8 percent of the water currently used for agriculture. Almond crops produce more than just the kernels humans eat, which provide an efficient source of a heart-healthy, plant-based protein. The almond crop also produces hulls and shells that provide feed and bedding for livestock animals. Almonds rank No. 1 in California for food exports out of the state, with North America consuming four times more almonds than any other market. Our industry is a global driver of $11 billion in economic activity for California.

In the last 20 years, California almond growers have reduced the amount of water required to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent. Nearly 70 percent of almond growers use micro-irrigation systems and more than 80 percent use demand-based irrigation scheduling. No one in the world can produce a high-quality almond as efficiently as we can in California.

In times of crisis, there are people who look for someone to blame. Almonds were the first target. Through sharing a few facts about our water stewardship, the media tide has turned to more balanced reporting. As the weather continues to warm into the summer, I expect agriculture will continue to field questions from our urban neighbors about water. Rest assured that Blue Diamond is committed to collaborating with our industry peers, water and environmental experts, consumer groups, regulatory bodies and policy makers to establish a water policy that makes sense for all Californians—rural and urban, Central Valley and coastal, producers and consumers.

(Mark Jansen is president and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers in Sacramento.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

Read at... http://www.agalert.com/story/?id=8324