Beesharing – An Online Network That Combines Beekeeping And Agriculture. A Digital Pollination Brokerb

Catch The Buzz     October 3, 2018

BEEsharing: Using bees to produce more fruit and vegetables. 

Senator Frank Horch, in a conversation with start-up BEEsharing, on bees in fruit and vegetable growing as well as ideas for solutions to worldwide bee mortality.

Bees are good money makers. Honey and other bee products are popular and they sell well. But above all, the pollination performance of bees is of enormous importance. They make a huge difference in the fruit and vegetable industry, as they can enlarge the yields. And it is exactly there where the BEEsharing’s business model of ties in. An online network that combines beekeeping and agriculture. Beekeepers offer bee colonies for pollination, and farmers and growers then buy their services. Consulting, mediation and logistics are handled by BEEsharing. The apiary in Hamburg is currently experiencing a tremendous upswing, now with more than 1,000 beekeepers.

Senator Frank Horch emphasized: “Sharing bees means looking after them. BEEsharing uses the opportunities offered by digitization and combines beekeepers with agricultural partners. A great business idea that also keeps an eye on plant and species diversity. Hamburg needs people who recognize opportunities and push their ideas forward with courage and passion. Startups like these deserve our attention because they create innovation and are the guarantor of tomorrow’s economic successes. We want to support them with good framework conditions.”

Otmar Trenk, CEO and Founder BEEsharing P.A.L.S. GmbH, said: “We are pleased that we have the opportunity to present our young, innovative company to representatives from politics and business and to enter into a pragmatic discourse with them. This discourse is necessary to maintain the competitiveness of beekeeping and agriculture, and to make it a promising endeavour.”

Bees are among the most important farm animals; they play a key role in nature and agriculture. The economic output of beekeeping in Germany is around 1.7 billion euros per year, of which 1.6 billion euros are accounted for by pollination alone. In Hamburg, there are more than 400 horticultural businesses for which bees are indispensable. In order to be able to use these bees in the future as well, a good environment is needed. The numerous beekeepers contribute to this. The developments in Hamburg have been very positive in recent years. The Beekeeper Association Hamburg e. V. currently has more than 1,000 bee friends, while in 2005 there were only about 250 members.

https://www.beeculture.com/catch-the-buzz-beesharing-an-online-network-that-combines-beekeeping-and-agriculture-a-digital-pollination-broker

 

The Super Bowl Of Beekeeping

The New York Times     By Jaime Lowe     August 15, 2018

Almond growing in California is a $7.6 billion industry that wouldn’t be possible without the 30 billion bees (and hundreds of human beekeepers) who keep the trees pollinated — and whose very existence is in peril.

Will Nissen’s bees north of Bakersfield, Calif. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Every February, white petals blanket first the almond trees, then the floor of the central valley, an 18,000-square-mile expanse of California that begins at the stretch of highway known as the Grapevine just south of Bakersfield and reaches north to the foothills of the Cascades. The blooms represent the beginning of the valley’s growing season each year: Almond trees are first to bud, flower and fruit. At the base of the trunks sit splintered boxes — some marked with numbers, some with names, some with insignias — stacked two boxes high on a wooden pallet that fits four stacks. Inside the boxes are bees, dancing in circles and figure-eights and sometimes just waggling. With almond season comes bee season. Everyone in the valley knows when it’s bee season. There are bee-specific truckers; motels occupied by seasonal workers; annual dinners to welcome the out-of-towners; weathered pickups with license plates from Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Florida parked in front of orchards at all hours of the night. And those ubiquitous boxes.

This year the beekeepers responsible for those bees gathered on a mid-February Saturday for a potluck lunch at a community center in Kerman, a small town of ranch houses wreathed by acres upon acres of almond orchards. The meeting was supposed to kick off the pollinating season, but the beekeepers, many of them wearing tucked-in plaid shirts and trucker caps with dirt-curled bills, had already been at work for a couple of weeks, summoned to the state early by a heat wave. The sun beckoned the blossoms, and the blossoms begged for the bees. Farmers have a window of just a few weeks when pollination has to happen, otherwise the nuts won’t set, which is what it’s called when blossoms are pollinated and kernels emerge. When the nuts don’t set, much of a crop can be lost. By the time of the potluck, it seemed as if the season were already at its midpoint.

The beekeepers lined up to fill their paper plates with pork chops, baked beans, chicken, rice, salad and three different kinds of cake. Teri Solomon, the organizer of the event and a longtime local beekeeper, collected $10 each for lunch. A list of speakers was taped to the table where she sat — respected beekeepers, bee brokers, scientists, a Fresno County sheriff’s police detective and a rep from the Almond Board of California. Topics of the day included the steady growth of the almond industry, the science of pollination, agricultural theft (hence the cop) and the ever-more-imperiled state of honeybees. That last item carried the most weight with the crowd, as they were all struggling to maintain the vast numbers of bees needed for almond pollination. Bees are central to an enormous agricultural industry — about one of every three mouthfuls of food we eat wouldn’t exist without bee pollination — and beekeepers’ custodianship of billions of these delicate animals is as much an art as it is a science. Beekeepers themselves, Solomon confided, are funny creatures: solitary in the field, trying to anticipate the needs of a finicky insect and, unlike that insect, social only once in a while. “We’re an odd bunch, very individualistic in nature,” she said. “But we’re in trouble.”

Honeybees on a removable frame from a bee box in the Central Valley. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York TimesMostly the beekeepers and bee brokers — the agents who negotiate contracts between beekeepers and farmers — were trying to get a sense from one another of how badly bee populations had been hit, how much each was charging per hive and how much they could increase that price for the next season. There was talk of disease, pesticides, drought, floods, suburban sprawl, parasites. They talked shop: Which menthol strips are you using to inoculate your bees? How often do you change the treatment-laced pad placed in the hive to keep your bees healthy? Are the wafers or quick strips more effective for mites? Where do you apply them in the box, and for how long? Does the medication affect the performance of the bees? Can you get rid of a mite infestation, or are preventive measures the only option?

About 10 years ago, the nation was seized with alarm when a Pennsylvania beekeeper lost 90 percent of his bees. He found that entire colonies had abandoned their queen. Losses like this were reported across North America and in Europe, but no one knows exactly what caused the die-off that came to be called colony-collapse disorder (C.C.D.). There hasn’t been a reported case of C.C.D. in years, but bee populations within colonies are still declining, and many scientists point to parasites as the cause. Since 2006, annual winter losses in colonies have averaged more than 28 percent, nearly double the historical winter mortality rate of 15 percent; in 2015, the U.S.D.A. reported more losses in the previous summer than the winter for the first time ever. According to Gene Brandi, a former president of the American Beekeeping Federation, the current plight of the bee population can be summed up in the four P’s: parasites, pathogens, pesticides and poor nutrition.

Pollination is a migratory practice now — more than two-thirds of America’s honeybees are mobilized for pollinating almond trees, and most come from out-of-state apiaries. One slide from the Almond Board rep showed the path of beekeepers who transport their colonies in semi-trucks around the nation seasonally — bees winter in Texas and Florida, head to California for almonds, then often summer in cooler states like North and South Dakota, where beekeepers will rebuild their colonies by splitting hives and feeding their bees manufactured protein patties and natural forage. The Midwest used to provide weeds, wildflowers and alfalfa for native and domesticated bees alike, but in the last couple of decades much of this food source has disappeared. Drought and suburban sprawl leave beekeepers with less open acreage for their bees to forage.

Last year, climate-intensified hurricanes and flooding along the Gulf Coast destroyed entire apiaries; they drowned blooms in Florida and led to the starvation of thousands of bees; wildfires in Santa Barbara and Ventura, Calif., killed more. And beekeepers need to worry not only about keeping their charges alive but also about keeping them from being stolen. Last year, just a few miles from Kerman, two men were arrested in association with what may be the largest bee heist ever, a three-year crime spree that added up to nearly a million dollars’ worth of stolen bees. A preliminary hearing is set for November. When one defendant was caught at a local bee yard with stolen boxes, local newspapers and major media outlets had fun with the bee heist, lacing copy with inevitable puns about sting operations. But the reality for beekeepers and bees is much more grave.

The worst of the woes is the Varroa mite, a pest that was identified in the mid-’80s. The mite has become increasingly associated with the spread of viruses, including deformed-wing virus. The size of a poppy seed, this parasite sucks blood from both adults and developing broods. Varroa leaves bees in a zombie state, unable to navigate.

Lyle Johnston, a Colorado-based beekeeper and bee broker, at an almond orchard in California. ‘‘A lot of guys go through hard times, get their butts kicked,’’ he said. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York TimesLyle Johnston, a beekeeper and broker based in Colorado, described his methods for keeping colonies healthy: Feed them protein patties to make up for the lack of forage, and place menthol strips in the brood chamber in early fall to stave off mites. And always reserve some of the honey that bees produce to feed them come winter. He learned that last tip in the early ’90s from Joe Traynor, a bee broker based in Bakersfield, who has been renting bees since 1959. The audience sat rapt. While most of Johnston’s peers were losing 40 percent of their bees every season, Johnston said he was losing only 10 percent. “Until you have a mite collapse and your bees actually go down, you don’t really learn how to treat for mites,” he said. “A lot of guys go through hard times, get their butts kicked” — losing thousands of colonies, sometimes all their bees.

“If cattlemen lost 50 percent of their cows, you know people would do something and react,” Chris Hiatt, vice president of the American Honey Producers Association, told me. “But since it’s bees and everyone thinks we can just breed more, nothing’s done. No one appreciates the stress we’re under.”

Domesticated honeybees and agriculture have been tethered to each other for millenniums. Egyptians floated hives up and down the Nile to pollinate flowers. Some honey jars were even found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. Highly refined apiculture techniques existed in prehistoric Greece, Israel, ancient China and Mayan civilizations. When colonists came to the New World, they brought bees in straw hives. When pioneers traveled west on the prairie, bees accompanied them in covered wagons. The biggest break in modern beekeeping came in the mid-19th century with the invention of a portable hive by Lorenzo Langstroth, a clergyman and apiarist. The bee box, with its suspended files of removable honeycomb, was so effective that its design has barely changed in all the years since. Langstroth allowed space for bees between and around combs — he calculated the optimal gap to be about three-eighths of an inch wide; less space is sealed with propolis and wax, while wider gaps are filled with comb. The box made it possible to move great distances with thousands of bees. Bees traveled by steamboat and rail, and once the Model T was invented, they were trucked from orchard to pasture and back again.

Frames of honeycomb in a portable hive. Since 2006, annual winter losses in bee colonies have averaged more than 28 percent. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York TimesNow they’re transported to Florida to pollinate watermelons, to Washington State for cherries or apples, to Maine for blueberries. And to California for almonds — the largest managed pollination event in the world. California grows more than 80 percent of the world’s almond supply. In 2014, the almond industry contributed $7.6 billion to California’s economy and was responsible for more than 100,000 jobs. A record total of 1.3 million acres in the state were devoted to almond production last year, an increase of 7 percent from the previous year.

The almond industry’s bullish expansion is not without controversy. It takes one gallon of water to produce a single almond; almond cultivation requires water year-round in a state where residential water usage has been restricted and some rural communities don’t have clean water at all.

On a hot February afternoon in Chowchilla, about 45 minutes north of Fresno, Johnston pulled up to an orchard in bloom. The trees appeared from afar to be still, but they were in fact vibrating with activity. “The almond pollination is the Super Bowl of beekeeping,” Johnston told me. His family has been in the bee business for 110 years. For decades, Johnston Honey Farms was primarily a business that sold honey. “I’d rather just do honey; it’d be a lot less stress,” he said. “We had to find another way to generate revenue. When I first started in the ’80s, we were probably 80 percent honey, 20 percent pollination, and now it’s the opposite.” In recent years, American beekeepers have been finding it increasingly difficult to compete against cheaper honey from China. As a result, most beekeepers turn to pollination events — especially the almond season — to make ends meet.

Many beekeeping operations are, like Johnston’s, third- and fourth-generation businesses. Johnston always knew he would be a beekeeper — on his first day of school, he left during recess to go home and tend to the bees. “Dad had Mom take me right back to school, but there was no question I was always going to work in bees.”

Beekeepers refilling sugar syrup (honey bee feed) on an almond orchard near Madera, Calif.CreditIlona Szwarc for The New York TimesAt 6-foot-5, Johnston towers over his hives, and he is scientific when it comes to his bees. He is beholden to his tiny insects, his mood dictated by their moods. Today they were happy, so he was happy. The bees, coated in pollen, flew from branch to hive and back again, with full pollen baskets, the part of the insect’s legs where they store loads for their brood. The bees clustered at the bottom of each box, pushing to deposit their pollen into a cell where larvae would eventually emerge, expanding the colony’s population. Johnston burned wood pellets in a gunny sack to work up mesquite smoke to pacify the bees, then pulled a frame out of one of his boxes. His bees looked fat and healthy and boisterous. A good beekeeper can immediately tell when a hive is unhealthy: The bees push to the outer edges of the frame as if they’re trying to escape.

As one of the biggest brokers in the nation, Johnston was running 73,000 hives with a rental value of roughly $14 million per year, distributed among his 22 beekeepers. According to the U.S.D.A.’s Cost of Pollination Survey, an annual tracking of honeybee health and pollination costs that started in 2016, 1.7 million colonies were used to pollinate almond trees in 2016; an estimated two million colonies were needed in 2018. “If almonds went down, we wouldn’t be running bees,” Johnston said — meaning the financial incentive of the pollination event would disappear. “The population of bees would change; it would drop by around a million hives.”

Honeybees used for managed pollination are domesticated; they are actually considered by a number of states to be livestock. Without their human keepers, honeybees might have faced extinction decades ago, as some of their native counterparts are beginning to now. Three bumblebees are believed to have gone extinct already: Bombus rubriventris, Bombus melanopoda and Bombus franklini; the rusty-patched bumblebee was listed under the Endangered Species Act just last year. The threat to both managed and wild bees is considered serious enough that in 2015 President Barack Obama established a task force to promote the health of honeybees. Its report called upon the Department of Agriculture to track honeybee-colony loss and to restore millions of acres of land to pollinator habitat.

At the potluck lunch, the Almond Board rep passed along a U.S.D.A. forecast that by 2020, 300,000 additional acres of almond trees would be blooming. Johnston said: “They’ve tripled the acreage since I started, and I remember an old-time grower telling me this thing is all going to go down; when they get to 400,000 or 500,000 acres, this thing is going to collapse like a crater. He was totally wrong: They blew right past that, and they’re going for more.” The problem is that there aren’t enough healthy bees to accommodate the growth of the almond industry.

A beekeeper in an almond orchard in California’s Central Valley. Ilona Szwarc for The New York TimesHives north of Bakersfield, where bees are trucked in for the largest managed pollination event in the world: the annual pollinating of California’s almond groves. Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

On a dry-erase board in an office in the back of a lab lined with experimental patches of wildflowers in the entomology department of U.C. Davis, the professor and researcher Neal Williams explained what he teaches to his undergraduate and graduate students and what he has found through decades of research. Pollinators can produce crops in a variety of ways — and sometimes, obviously, as nature intended, just by showing up. “Some of the work we’ve done is to determine whether some combination of wild bees with honeybees improves overall pollination,” Williams said. “If there is a synergy. If you want more pollination, you either need more bees or you need to make them better.” Williams found that planting wildflowers increases pollination in two ways: It attracts native pollinators, which create competition in managed honeybees, and the wildflowers vary bees’ nutritional intake. Several years ago, Williams conducted a study that monitored populations of bees for two consecutive seasons when growers planted wildflowers on the borders of their orchards. The results established that the wildflowers had not distracted honeybees from almond pollination.

Farmers have worried that flowering plants compete for pollination with almond blossoms, so they’re reluctant to allow for any other plantings. The bases of almond trees are usually stripped clean, with mounds of bare soil protecting the roots. To persuade growers to adopt new techniques, Williams and a colleague developed an algorithm to determine the exact cost-effective plants to suit the specific needs of each crop. But almond growers are reluctant to change standard practices, especially when there’s financial risk involved.

Agricultural entities — including California’s Almond Board — pour money into pollinator research, but they are simultaneously anticipating the end of bees. There was talk in Kerman about a new variety of almond tree that is self-pollinating. One almond grower and distributor said a lot of new orchards were buying the self-pollinating plants, but no one could tell if the trees were actually self-pollinating or if the bees from neighboring orchards were slipping into their blooms. Either way, the same farmer added, the almonds tasted bad, and he wouldn't be planting them anytime soon. Outside the ag labs, extreme measures to address the apocalyptic world-without-bees scenario include the deployment, in China, of armies of workers to hand-pollinate crops. In March, Walmart filed a patent application for a drone pollinator. “Robot bees would be a major challenge,” said Nigel Raine, a University of Guelph pollinator researcher. “I would be really nervous about putting our faith in robot bees.”

Driving outside Bakersfield, Will Nissen of Five Star Honey Farms pointed out the orchards owned by the Mormon Church, the Wonderful Company and retirement and investment funds. Then he pointed to his colorful and branded boxes at the base of almond trees. It was the end of the day, and his bees were all heading to the hives for the night. After releasing a plume of smoke, he pulled open one of their roofs (“You’d be angry too, if someone took the roof off your house!”) — then delicately exposed a hanging frame. Nissen showed me the filled honeycomb where larvae would start poking through, workers waggling and the queen, bigger and colored a deeper orange than her drones. After almond season, Nissen and his wife, Peggy, would spend several months breeding queens for future broods. He asked if I’d ever tasted fresh honey and handed me a chunk of wax with liquid dripping from the sides. I could taste the pollen, a texture like dust, and then the honey. I couldn’t tell if the honey tasted like almonds or if almonds taste like bees.

Randy Verhoek, former president of the American Honey Producers Association, in an almond orchard near Madera, Calif. Credit Ilona Szwarc for The New York Times

Nissen had been deployed by his broker, Joe Traynor, who was too busy during bee season to leave his office. For the first few months of every year, Traynor, 82, sends a flurry of emails to a list of all the beekeepers and brokers and scientists he has encountered — updates, research reports, weather forecasts and long-winded exchanges about the nature of bees. Sometimes he’ll forward a poem — like the one he sent after frost threatened this year’s crop written from the perspective of a farmer praying for rain and debating suicide. Traynor studied agriculture at U.C. Davis and by his own admission wasn’t a great student. “I got a C in economics at U.C.D. — all I learned was the law of supply and demand,” he said. Now, after nearly 50 years of renting bees, the demand is wearing on him. He barely sleeps during almond season and spent hours creating aerial crop maps, color-coded to indicate which acres he’s responsible for pollinating.

At his office in downtown Bakersfield, Traynor shared his collection of bee research and theories on pollination. The hallway to his office was shedding paint; on his door, a simple brass plate read “Scientific Ag Co.,” as if he were a private investigator. Inside the office — where he catches whatever sleep he can during the season — files, books and papers were stacked on every conceivable surface. Traynor’s shy, studied demeanor shifts at the mention of bees. He becomes laser-focused. Every year, he gets the same anxiety about whether he’ll have enough bees for his growers, whether his bees will perform, whether the almonds will set and how fast he can get the boxes out of the fields before farmers start working their crops with pesticides. There is a lot of tension between beekeepers and growers about timing. Once blooms are pollinated, growers will start spraying their orchards, and bees have to be removed quickly.

That night 130 people gathered at the annual beekeepers’ dinner Traynor hosts with Mike Mulligan, another area bee broker. A sudden frost had set in, and they stood around open-pit fires at Mulligan’s house, adjacent to an almond orchard. Beekeepers and brokers and scientists talked about the same issues discussed at the meeting in Kerman a week earlier. How do we treat hives for Varroa mites? What do we do to feed our bees when there’s no forage? How do we keep up with pollination? How can we raise prices if the frost affects almonds? How do we continue on as beekeepers without going broke? All the questions added up to one big question that hovers over every meeting and every dinner and every potluck: What is the future of bees?

Mulligan stood in front of the crowd to say a prayer for friends and for the season. He talked about how at the beginning of pollination he was worried he would be short a thousand hives. “The bees aren’t looking good, the weather is lousy, we just have to cancel,” one of his beekeepers called and told him from Texas. Mulligan reminded himself of a passage from Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Within a couple of days, he made up the loss with last-minute hives from local keepers whose plans had fallen through and who needed to place their bees. Many other beekeepers short on hives did not have the same luck.

Each year the beekeepers compare notes on whether to raise prices for pollination in the coming season — a decision that might depend on drought or frost or how big the almond crop would be. But one thing they didn’t anticipate, back at that dinner in February, was a tariff war. Beekeepers are now negotiating contracts with almond growers for next season. This season’s yield, which will be harvested in September, is projected to be a record crop. But trade disputes that have been initiated by the Trump administration are likely to affect most large-scale nut distributors, because both China and Europe are major buyers. If President Trump’s policies are carried out, almonds sold to China will be subjected to an additional 15 percent retaliatory tariff starting Aug. 23.

“Beekeepers are pushed into the margins,” said Randy Verhoek, former president of the American Honey Producers Association. “We’re doing things we never imagined would even be a factor in beekeeping. We’re just trying to do everything we can to keep them healthy, because there’s nowhere to go. Where are we going to go?” Verhoek, a migratory beekeeper based in Texas, has dealt with one almond grower in California for 17 years. This past season, he dropped 9,000 hives on 4,000 or so acres. He’ll gross $1.4 million from pollinating almonds, but when I asked him about profits, he said, “Well, that’s the problem with beekeepers; we don’t crunch the numbers. We just put everything back in the business and hope we’ll be here next year.”

Jaime Lowe is a frequent contributor to the magazine and the author of “Mental.” She previously wrote a feature about the incarcerated women who fight California wildfires.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/magazine/the-super-bowl-of-beekeeping.html

How to Steal 50 Million Bees

Bloomberg Businessweek     By Josh Dean     June 26, 2018

Every winter, apiarists from all over America rent their hives to farmers in California, attracting the attention of some very specialized thieves.

ILLUSTRATION: ALEXIS BEAUCLAIR FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Lloyd Cunniff felt terrible, literally sick to his stomach, about trucking his bees to California, but fate had painted him into a corner. Bad weather, bad luck, scrawny, needy bees—a whole mess of headaches had upset the economics at Beeline Honey, his third-generation apiary in Montana. It was colony collapse in 2015 that had really tipped things sideways. The mysterious affliction, which causes worker bees to vacate a hive en masse, had destroyed half of the Beeline colonies. Cunniff and his wife, Brenda, were down to 489 hives, when he bit the bullet and did the thing he really didn’t want to do.

In January 2017, Cunniff piled 488 of his 489 bee boxes—24 to a pallet—onto a semitruck trailer, strapped them down, and headed west to chase the sweet, sweet almond dollars that were drawing so many of his beekeeping brethren to California’s Central Valley. Loaning his bees out for a season, 1,000 miles away, made him very uncomfortable. But if your business is bees, California is where the big money is. Or it is at least in February, when 1.2 million acres of almond trees don’t get pollinated without the help of honeybees, which love almond flowers. California produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, and over the past 15 years the trees have come to dominate the valley, pushing out all kinds of row crops. There aren’t enough California bees to pollinate them, so every year the call goes out to keepers: Bring your boxes west. An acre of almond trees needs at least two hives, meaning that every February, 2.5 million colonies—two-thirds of the commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S.—are clustered in a few California counties. Beekeepers command as much as $200 per hive for the season, which runs a few weeks.

Cunniff has a long-standing relationship with Strachan Apiaries, a Yuba City-based business that’s one of the most famous names in American bees. Don Strachan, the founder, helped Cunniff’s grandfather get his apiary up and running. For years now, Valeri Strachan, Don’s granddaughter, has sent a few trucks of California bees to Montana to make clover honey in the summer, when there’s little for those bees to eat or do in the Central Valley. So when Cunniff decided to participate in the 2017 almond season, the Strachans were happy to help out an old friend. They arranged for farmers to hire his bees and offered to keep them for a few weeks until it was time to head south from Sutter County toward Fresno and the trees.

When Cunniff arrived in Yuba City, the Strachans directed him and his truck to a dike running along some sunflower fields southwest of town, between the Sacramento River and the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s where he unloaded his bees on Jan. 17, arranging the boxes in tidy rows. Leaving them that evening, Cunniff felt better about things. The bees seemed happy; that’s what he told Brenda when he called her from his hotel.

The next morning he rose early and drove back to the site. The fog had rolled in overnight, and Lloyd couldn’t see 100 feet past his nose, so he wandered around to make certain he wasn’t fog-blind. Then he double-checked to be sure he was in the right place, because goddamn if something weird hadn’t happened: The hives were gone.

Almost 50 million bees, in 488 white boxes with cedar lids, every one of them hand-crafted by Cunniff, had vanished into the fog.

The first thing Philip Strachan, Valeri’s son, thought when Cunniff called him in a fugue state, muttering about stolen bees, was that this was the work of professionals. No normal criminal would think to steal bees or have the equipment or know-how to pull it off. Cunniff was thinking the same way, and the evidence was right there in the dirt. He could tell by the thieves’ tracks that they’d used single-axle, dual-wheeled straight trucks, and not semis, probably because they knew there wasn’t room to turn a semi around in a hurry. He also saw signs of a forklift, so they’d come prepared to lift pallets.

Hives go missing; that’s no surprise. But historically, Strachan says, it’s been “one here, two there.” Just some drunk opportunists in a pickup. But this was a methodical operation. Cunniff’s weren’t the only hives taken. In total, more than 700 of them, valued at as much as a million dollars, went missing in a single night. In addition to the heavy equipment, the burglars needed the gear required to subdue and corral the boxes—namely, full keeper suits and hand-held smokers. Whoever did this knew how to handle bees.

And this wasn’t the first time, either. What sounds to novice ears like the plot of Fargo Season 4—a crew of guys in white suits and beekeeper hoods boosting hives in the fog—is a small but growing niche of agricultural crime. Two years prior, someone stole a bunch of hives in a neighboring county, and the next year more were taken, Strachan says. Counting the loss of Cunniff’s bees in 2017, then, “it was three years in a row that we had large thefts in this area.”

“I wouldn’t steal my neighbor’s car and park it right next door”

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, hive heists are an epidemic. There the motive is manuka honey, a highly prized variety that goes for $150 a kilogram (or 2.2 pounds), and authorities suspect an organized crime syndicate may be to blame. “It doesn’t matter if it’s beekeeping or meth; this is just the new gold rush,” one apiary manager told Reuters.

The culprits in California were almost certainly not local. Beekeepers are a close-knit community. They share wisdom and are aware of one another’s operations and equipment, particularly within a given area. Anyone new showing up with a bunch of hives for hire is going to stand out. “I wouldn’t steal my neighbor’s car and park it right next door,” Strachan says. “And it was pretty obvious that if you were going to take them from this area, they’re probably going to take them straight down to the almonds.”

Cunniff grew up around bees and hears their buzz in his sleep. His grandfather tended hives on the high plains of Montana, so did his father, and so did he, as soon as he was old enough to participate, at age 13. The morning of the theft, Cunniff drove around in a daze, his hope dwindling. He stopped every time he saw a beekeeper tending to boxes, but their reactions sunk his spirits further. The bees, folks said, were almost certainly gone forever. Stolen bees just aren’t found. “One kid said that he’d lost 300 colonies the year before and never saw anything of them,” Cunniff recalls.

He’d hated the idea of moving his bees in the first place, but this was far worse than anything he imagined. He’d lost so much more than the $100,000 in pollination fees. His entire livelihood was gone. One day, he had almost 500 hives. The next, he had one. “I was 57 years old, and I had to start over from scratch,” he says. “Where I had been thinking about retiring, now I got to … there’s no way I can retire now.”

Valeri Strachan, a former president of the California State Beekeepers Association, mobilized that organization. The CSBA has a fund for rewards, and it put up $10,000 for information that could lead to an arrest and conviction for the hive thefts. More important, law enforcement took notice. Agriculture crime detectives in Madera, Sutter, and Fresno counties were all put on the case, and the FBI even offered assistance.

Around the state, bee people were on the lookout for boxes that fit the description of those stolen from Cunniff and several others, but with 2.5 million hives in a concentrated area, the task was daunting. California law requires commercial keepers to brand their boxes by burning or cutting a state-assigned number into the wood. But the law isn’t strictly followed. Some beekeepers can’t be bothered, whereas others, such as Cunniff, are from out of state.

Market forces wouldn’t help, either. Demand in almond season is often desperate, something thieves can exploit. “You’re going to come across somebody who may not have bees on his almonds yet, and you’re like, ‘Do you want bees?’ And that guy is not going to ask questions,” Philip Strachan says, “because without those bees, he’s not going to have a crop.”

ILLUSTRATION: ALEXIS BEAUCLAIR FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEKCunniff’s main business is honey. That’s how it used to be for most apiaries, especially those on the high plains of the western U.S., where the air is clear, the water is clean, and the forage, as keepers call the many plants bees plunder for pollen and nectar, is plentiful. Bees in Montana and the Dakotas produce more honey per hive than any other bees in America, and that’s been good enough to keep three generations of Cunniffs housed and fed, with money left over to vacation in Hawaii and send the kids to good colleges.

But the business isn’t what it used to be, for them or anyone else who raises bees commercially. Today’s commercial beekeeper can never relax. He can expect to lose 30 percent of his bee stock every year, from bad flower years, pesticides, disease, and bears, which really do love honey, just like the cartoons say. Climate change is a problem, especially as it pertains to drought, because bees need lots of water. They both drink it and collect it to take back to the hives for the queen and her nurses, which is why you always find bees floating in pools and buzzing around leaky sinks.

“We spend so much money to keep them alive,” Cunniff says. “We feed them pollen substitutes that we never, ever dreamed of.” Those are $2.50 a pop for each hive. “They used to make enough honey to make it through the winter. Now they won’t make it. You got to feed them corn syrup at 40¢ a gallon.” Twice a year, he treats for varroa mites, a scourge his father never had to deal with. The treatment used to cost $1 a hive. It’s now $4.

“It’s probably twice the labor it used to be to maintain the beehives,” says Valeri Strachan, who took over the Strachan Apiaries business when her father passed away and will soon hand it over to Philip. Honey is third on the list of revenue streams for the Strachans. Above that is queen bee breeding. If an apiary in America is using Carniolan queens, they’ve almost certainly been bred by the Strachans, who’ve perfected the art. Valeri’s specialty, and it’s a rare one, is instrumental insemination. She’s one of a handful of Americans who can extract semen from drone bees and use it to inseminate virgin queens, a delicate skill requiring a steady hand, tiny tools, and a microscope. The Strachans produce close to 50,000 queen bees a year. “We use some, some die, and then the rest are shipped,” Philip says. A healthy Carniolan queen costs $31 (or $28 if you buy bulk); she’ll be sent overnight by UPS in a tiny box with screened sides along with six bodyguard bees that tend to her needs in transit.

At the top of the pyramid for the Strachans is pollination. The company maintains an average of 10,000 hives in a given year, an exponential leap from the 600 Valeri’s father started with and the most it has the space for. Bees move from almonds to prunes to any one of many other crops: apples, cherries, melons, sunflowers. This summer there are eight Strachan hives in a cilantro field; others will soon be sent to farmers of alfalfa seed.

Back in 2013, a Whole Foods in Rhode Island wanted people to recognize how important bees are to their daily diet. For a few days, the market removed all produce that grew on plants that depend on pollinators. More than half of the section was empty: 237 of 453 products in the section, or 52 percent of the store’s produce, were gone.

In late May 2017, four months after Cunniff’s hives vanished in the fog, someone who knew enough about bees to recognize an odd sight called the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to report something suspicious: A vacant lot at the intersection of two roads about 20 minutes east of downtown Fresno was filled with bee boxes—many more than any reputable beekeeper would store at a single location. And it wasn’t just too many boxes. These were scattered all over the one-acre lot, stacked haphazardly, and in various shapes, sizes, and colors.

When a Fresno County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at midday to inspect the site, bees impeded his investigation. They’re most active in warm temperatures, and these bees were agitated—too agitated for him to get anywhere near the boxes without getting stung.

Cops returned later, this time after dark, and found what Fresno Detective Andres Solis called a “chop shop” for hives. A man in full beekeeper regalia—veil and all—was sitting in a passage between some stacked boxes that seemed to be his workspace. He appeared to be in the process of splitting each colony into two, so he’d have twice as many hives to market. (Half the hives would then be without a queen, of course, but healthy hives often split anyway, when they get overpopulated. The bees make a new queen from a fertilized egg.) Nearby was a station where someone had been sanding and repainting, as well as a stencil for the name that had been sloppily spray-painted on many of the boxes: Allstate Apiaries Inc.

That was the name of the apiary operated by the man detectives arrested there, a 51-year-old Ukrainian immigrant named Pavel Tveretinov, who’d been renting hives to local almond growers and selling them to buyers around the U.S.

Detectives asked a local beekeeper named Ryan Cousins to come down to the lot and help them ID the hives so they could begin the process of getting the very angry insects back to their rightful owners. Cunniff’s boxes weren’t marked, but they were handmade and had a unique configuration of frames inside. Cousins recognized them from photos Valeri Strachan had posted on Facebook.

Several of the thousands of recovered beehives near Sanger, Calif., on May 16, 2017.PHOTOGRAPHER: SCOTT SMITH/AP PHOTO

The police called the Cunniffs in Montana, and Lloyd and Brenda drove immediately to Great Falls to catch a flight to Fresno. They were on a stopover in Salt Lake City when a detective called with an update. “He said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but we found two more locations with your bees since you got on the plane this morning!’ ” Cunniff recalls.

In California he went immediately to one of the lots and wandered through the rows of tipped and broken boxes, angry bees buzzing around his head. “Hives were tipped over and mixed together,” Cunniff says. “Oh God, it was like a nightmare.” Many had been split from their normal two-story configuration into single hives, not to mention painted over and affixed with the new stencil. He spotted some hives that looked familiar. He pulled out his phone and called the young man he’d met near Yuba City the day his own hives were taken, the one who said he’d lost 300 hives and was sure they were gone forever. He thought he ought to tell him he was right: None of his bees were left. “It was just empty equipment,” Cunniff says.

The authorities recovered more than 600 hives at the three locations, stolen over the course of at least three years. They charged Tveretinov, along with another Ukrainian immigrant, Vitaliy Yeroshenko, with 10 felony counts of possession of stolen property, and estimated that the value of the stolen equipment and bees was at least $875,000, making it “the largest bee-theft investigation we’ve ever had,” says Arley Terrence, a sergeant in the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Beekeepers from three states flew in to assess the damage and salvage what they could. “We had no intention of bringing anything home,” Cunniff says. The insurance company had told him not to. “But once we got down there, there was so much equipment, we just couldn’t leave it.”

Cousins called some friends, who brought a truck and a forklift and helped Cunniff load his gear and the remaining bees. The truck wasn’t big enough to carry it all, so they left some overnight, and when they went back in the morning it was gone. “They had come in and stolen some of the stuff, again,” Cunniff says. It was later recovered, again.

In beekeeper circles, it’s widely believed the arrested men are part of a larger criminal enterprise. But neither the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office nor the district attorney assigned to the case is pursuing that angle. The trial has yet to be scheduled, and the defendants have pleaded not guilty. Detectives initially feared the men would be a flight risk, but they’ve appeared at every hearing. “I’m a little surprised that they keep showing up,” Sheriff’s office spokesman Tony Botti says. “But they’re still insisting they’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t understand it.”

Sometime this fall, Kelsey Peterson, a deputy district attorney and agriculture crimes prosecutor, will open the state’s case against the two defendants in a courtroom at the Fresno County Courthouse, which itself looks very much like a honeycomb. As of late May, her investigator, Doug Bolton, was still pursuing leads in the hope that she might be able to add theft charges on top of possession. “I’d like to do that for the victims,” Peterson says.

Cunniff trucked his bees home last summer, but he and Brenda had already started over with all new hives, most of them started with Carniolan queens either given to him or sold at an extreme discount by the Strachans. “We were starting over, and then all of a sudden these other bees show up,” he says. He had to quarantine the old bees, to make sure they hadn’t picked up any diseases. “That’s like a whole different operation. You can’t go work on those colonies and then come work on the new colonies unless you sterilize all your equipment and change gloves,” he says. “I had to hire three or four guys just to try to keep up with all these different things that we were doing at the same time.”

Insurance covered a chunk of his losses, but not the loss of income from the missed almond season or all the honey he couldn’t make last year. This year his policy premiums jumped $8,000. The insurance company also decided it would no longer cover lost bees, only equipment.

That’s why, when January 2018 rolled around, Cunniff was once more doing the thing he’d hated to do in the first place, the thing he’d thought he’d never do again. He stacked his hives—456 of them—on a truck, strapped them down, and headed for California. This time he took precautions. Instead of bringing in the hives early to settle in and acclimate—but also give “everybody that’s crooked a chance to scope everything out and drive around and find stuff that’s easy to get to”—Cunniff waited until the last possible minute to take them west.

Unlike last year, the bees all came home. “They made some money, and we got them back in pretty good shape,” he says.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-26/how-to-steal-50-million-bees

(Thank you to Bloomberg Businessweek from the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Association.)

Almond Alliance Hails Funding For Bee Program

Morning AG Clips    The Buzz     June 21, 2018

Bee Safe program will ensure the safe movement of colonies, prevent apiary theft, more

Honey bees are essential for a successful almond crop. The single most important factor determining a good yield is pollination during the bloom period, and honey bees are the most successful pollinators of almonds blossoms. (Roberto García Ruiz, Flickr/Creative Commons)SACREMENTO — The Almond Alliance of California is proud to announce that, in partnership with the California State Beekeepers Association, our team led agricultural stakeholders to successfully advocate for $1.9 million for one-to-three years in additional, dedicated state funds for the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s new Bee Safe program. This program will ensure the safe movement of colonies, prevent apiary theft and convene stakeholders on best management practices.

Almond Alliance President Elaine Trevino pointed out, “Additionally, we will be pushing forward to have the legislature commit to increasing staffing at border stations and streamline inspections during the peak pollination season.”

Honey bees are essential for a successful almond crop. The single most important factor determining a good yield is pollination during the bloom period, and honey bees are the most successful pollinators of almonds blossoms.

The Almond Alliance testified in favor of the CDFA’s Bee Safe Program funding request during state legislative hearings on Gov. Brown’s proposed budget. (Note: This preceding statement is from an April 20, 2018 Alliance newsletter article on the funding request) Trevino praised the collective efforts which resulted in successfully securing the funding. “We are thankful for the efforts by the California State Beekeepers Association and the Almond Board of California in providing critically important research and data about the importance of bees to the California almond industry,” said Trevino. “These funds will aid greatly in efforts to ensure the safe movement of hives, prevent apiary theft and educate beekeepers and almond growers on best management practices.”

According to the CDFA, pollinator health is behind the Bee Safe Program, which will begin on July 1, 2018 with a $1.9 million budget appropriation intended to improve the health and survival of honeybees by increasing foraging opportunities, reducing pesticide exposure, and providing funds for enforcement of existing laws at the local level to promote and protect California’s beekeeping industry.

Each year, thousands of shipments carrying more than 650,000 beehives are transported into California in time for the almond bloom. Honeybees help pollinate at least 90 different crops in addition to almonds, including berries, cucumbers, cantaloupes and apples.

About the Almond Alliance of California 

The Almond Alliance of California (AAC) was formerly the Almond Hullers and Processors Association and is a trusted non-profit organization with a mission of advocating on behalf of the Almond industry in California. AAC actively advocates for the positions of almond growers, hullers, shellers, handers and processors, while educating the industry about upcoming and existing regulatory changes.  Through workshops, newsletters, conferences and meetings, AAC serves as a clearing house of information that informs the almond industry and continues to position the industry as an agricultural leader in the state.  

AAC works to educate its voluntary members and partners on upcoming and existing regulatory issues that will impact the almond industry.  AAC is governed by a nine-person Board of Directors including a Chairman, Vice Chairman, Chief Financial Officer, and Secretary.

~Almond Alliance of California

https://www.morningagclips.com/almond-alliance-hails-funding-for-bee-program/

Nasa Soil Moisture Data Advances Global Crop Forecasts, And Can Help Beekeepers Predict Honey Crops, Or No Honey Crop

Bee Culture - Catch the Buzz    June 9, 2018

IMAGE: With data from NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite, researchers can monitor the amount of water in the soils to identify areas prone to droughts or floods. In this map…

Credits: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory 

Data from the first NASA satellite mission dedicated to measuring the water content of soils is now being used operationally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to monitor global croplands and make commodity forecasts.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, or SMAP, launched in 2015 and has helped map the amount of water in soils worldwide. Now, with tools developed by a team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, SMAP soil moisture data is being incorporated into the Crop Explorer website of the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, which reports on regional droughts, floods and crop forecasts. Crop Explorer is a clearinghouse for global agricultural growing conditions, such as soil moisture, temperature, precipitation, vegetation health and more. “There’s a lot of need for understanding, monitoring, and forecasting crops globally,” said John Bolten, research scientist at Goddard. “SMAP is NASA’s first satellite mission devoted to soil moisture, and this is a very straightforward approach to applying that data.”

Variations in global agricultural productivity have tremendous economic, social and humanitarian consequences. Among the users of this new SMAP data are USDA regional crop analysts who need accurate soil moisture information to better monitor and predict these variations.

“The USDA does crop forecasting activities from a global scale, and one of the main pieces of information for them is the amount of water in the soil,” said Iliana Mladenova, a research scientist at Goddard.

The USDA has used computer models that incorporate precipitation and temperature observations to indirectly calculate soil moisture. This approach, however, is prone to error in areas lacking high-quality, ground-based instrumentation. Now, Mladenova said, the agency is incorporating direct SMAP measurements of soil moisture into Crop Explorer. This allows the agriculture analysts to better predict where there could be too little, or too much, water in the soil to support crops.

These soil moisture conditions, along with tools to analyze the data, are also available on Google Earth Engine. There, researchers, nonprofits, resource managers and others can access the latest data as well as archived information.

“If you have better soil moisture data and information on anomalies, you’ll be able to predict, for example, the occurrence and development of drought,” Mladenova said.

The timing of the information matters as well, she added — if there’s a short dry period early in the season, it might not have an impact on the total crop yield, but if there’s a prolonged dry spell when the grain should be forming, the crop is less likely to recover.

With global coverage every three days, SMAP can provide the Crop Explorer tool with timely updates of the soil moisture conditions that are essential for assessments and forecasts of global crop productivity.

For more than a decade, the USDA Crop Explorer products have incorporated soil moisture data from satellites. It started with the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-E instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite, but that instrument stopped gathering data in late 2011. Soil moisture information from ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity mission is also being incorporated into some of the USDA’s products. This new, high quality input from SMAP will help fill critical gaps in soil moisture information.

http://www.beeculture.com/catch-the-buzz-nasa-soil-moisture-data-advances-global-crop-forecasts-and-can-help-beekeepers-predict-honey-crops-or-no-honey-crop/?utm_source=Catch+The+Buzz&utm_campaign=62e1d1041d-Catch_The_Buzz_4_29_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0272f190ab-62e1d1041d-256252085

Pollinator: Judgment Day

University of Maryland: the1a.org (NPR) March 27, 2018

Mohammed Abed/Getty Images

The continued decline of bee colonies — they fell by a third from 2016 to 2017 — has inspired some criminal enterprises.

honeybee heist in California led to the discovery of a “beehive chop shop” and thieves scheming to pinch pollinators.

And then there’s honey. “Foods that can’t be differentiated by sight will often be faked, and honey fills the bill,” writes Larry Olmsted, who investigated food fraud for a book.

Complex global trades can obscure the true source — and composition — of the gooey goods in our cupboards. So when we buy a bottle or a bear, how do we know we’re getting the good stuff?

Guests

Kim Flottum Editor, Bee Culture Magazine

Eric Wenger Chairman, True Source Honey

Margarita Lopez-Uribe Assistant professor of entomology, Penn State University; she studies how environmental changes impact the bee population.

Gene Brandi Past president, current board member at the American Beekeeping Federation; owner, Gene Brandi Apiaries

How To Make Sure Your Honey Is Real

1. Inspect the label. By law, it must include the honey’s country of origin. The highest-quality honey typically comes from Argentina, Canada, and the United States. And as for the location of the packer: if it’s a distant place you’ve never heard of, that’s a red flag.

2. Look for a stamp of approval. Certification programs like True Source Honey investigate honey supply chains abroad. If honey passes the test, you’ll be able to tell by the certified logo on the label.

3. Do your research. If you’re curious about a honey product or ingredient, you can call the collector or manufacturer and find out more information.

4. Check out your local farmer’s market. That way, you can talk to the beekeeper in person.

https://wamu.org/story/18/03/27/pollinator-judgement-day/

Commercial Beekeepers - The Unsung Heroes of the Nut Business

(Every year about this time, Bill's Bees takes part in the greatest pollination event in the universe - almond pollination. In 2015, Tracy Samuelson featured Bill's Bees in her piece for Marketplace, (it's reposted below in its entirety). Enjoy!)

By Tracey Samuelson, Featured on Marketplace, March 2, 2015 (Click here for Radio Interview) 17:15

An employee of Bill’s Bees prepares hives for transportation to almond groves. Credit: Tracey Samuelson/Marketplace

"Commercial Beekeepers - The Unsung Heroes of the Nut Business" 

"Bill Lewis is waiting for the sun to set, the time of day when his bees crawl back inside the short white boxes that house their colonies. As the sky turns pink behind the San Gabriel mountains, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Lewis climbs into the seat of a forklift and starts moving the hives onto the back of a flatbed truck. These bees are on the move.

  The best time to transport bees is after dusk, when they return to their hives for the night. Credit: Tracey Samuelson/Marketplace

Bill Lewis of Bill’s Bees loads several hundred hives onto trucks in Lake View Terrace, CA., in order to drive them a couple hours north to pollinate almond trees for a few weeks. Credit: Tracey Samuelson/Marketplace "As soon as you get on the freeway and there’s air flowing past the entrances, all the bees run back inside,” says Lewis, of any stragglers.

Lewis, who runs Bill’s Bees, is taking about 700 of his hives on a road trip to the California’s Central Valley, where he’ll unload them across acres of almond orchards, working until 1 or 2 a.m. under the light of full moon.

All across the country, more than a million-and-a-half colonies are making a similar journey – traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to pollinate California’s almonds. Farmers rent hives for few weeks because in order for almond trees to produce nuts, bees need to move pollen from one tree to another. 

No bees, no almonds.

“This pollination season there will be [some] 800,000 acres of almonds that need to be pollinated,” says Eric Mussen, a honey bee specialist at the University of California Davis. He says more than 100 different kinds of crops need these rent-a-bees, but almonds are significant for the number of acres that require pollination all at the same time. About 85 percent of the commercial bees in United States – which Mussen calls “bees on wheels” – travel to California for almonds.

The state supplies roughly 80 percent of the world’s almonds, worth $6.4 billion during the 2013-2014 season, according to the Almond Board of California.

“It’s a matter of numbers,” he says. “You’re trying to provide enough bees to be moving the pollen around between the varieties and whatnot. It’s just a huge, huge number of bees. The only way we can get a huge number of bees in one place at one time is to bring them in on trucks.”

In fact, bees are such an important part of the almond business that Paramount Farms, one of the biggest almond growers in the world, has decided they need to be in the bee business, too. The company just bought one of the largest beekeepers in the United States, based in Florida.

“Bees are so essential for the process of growing almonds,” says Joe MacIlvane, Paramount’s president. “If we don’t have a reliable supply of good strong colonies, we simply won’t be a viable almond grower, so that’s our primary motivation for getting into the business.”

Renting bees is about 10 to 15 percent of Paramount’s production costs, but the motivation to keep their own bees isn’t simply economic.

“Many bee keepers are individual or family business and many people are getting on in years and we don’t see a lot of young people coming into the business,” says MacIlvane.

Additionally, bee populations are struggling. A significant number having been dying each year for the past decade or so, thanks to a mix of factors, from pesticides to lost habitat for feeding. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what’s killing them.

“We had a large problem last year with bees dying in the orchard because of something that was going on during bloom,” says Bill Lewis. He thinks a pesticide or fungicide may have been to blame.

This year, Lewis and his bee broker are being pickier about the farms they’re working with, vetting them more carefully because those lost bees had big economic consequences – about $300,000 in lost income for Lewis."

Featured in: Marketplace for Monday March 2, 2015 (Click here for Radio Interview

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.

Jon and Jeremy Go to the Almonds

Jon Reese (2018 LACBA President) and Jeremy Jensen (2017 LACBA President), commercial beekeepers, checking their bees in the California Almond Orchards. (Photos by Jeremy & Jon)

Mornings in the California almond orchards.

Jon and Jeremy arrive at their first honey bee hive location.

A look in the hive.A closer look in the hive.

Jon's pensive look in the hive.

A growing colony.Almond blossoms.There's bees in these blossoms.All's well! Heading home!

Higher Temperatures In California Resulting In Early Season Bloom

Bee Culture - Catch The Buzz    By Mel Machado     February 12, 2018

Temperatures in Central Valley have been well above average; that means blooms along the Fresno County Blossom Trail are well ahead of schedule. Everywhere in Fresno county you can start to see blossoms in the orchards; in another week or so many of these trees will be in full bloom.

Apricots, oranges, and peaches are just a few of the valley’s signature crops that start out in this beautiful and delicate way. People from all over the world come to see the blossoms.

But due to the unseasonably warm start to February, the timing of this bloom is multiple week’s ahead of schedule, reported yourcentralvalley.com. On the surface this may not seem like a problem, but Stacie Grote with Simonian Farms says some growers are concerned: “If we were to get a frost in the next few weeks it could devastate the cherry crop.”

Cold temperatures are important during the winter so plants can go dormant, but when an orchard in full bloom is exposed to the cold, it could be an entirely different story. “There is still so much time for the weather to change; storms, frost. It’s not unheard of to have a frost in March. That’s making the farmers a little nervous,” said Grote.

XXXXX

If you have anything at all to do with almond pollination, or simply want to watch and learn about the greatest pollination event in the Universe, tune into the web page below, published by Blue Diamond on a regular basis during the almond season. Mel Machado does a weekly overview of bloom stage and anything else of interest or “need to know” for bees, beekeepers and growers for the entire valley, from north to south, on a weekly basis. It is without doubt the best source of what’s happening available.

http://bluediamondgrowers.com/  Then click on Crop Progress Report

Below is the current release. February 5, 2018

Sonora green tip – Colusa County

Dry conditions have dominated the fall and winter of 2018. Rainfall totals have been running well behind seasonal norms and the wet winter experienced last year. This has presented several difficulties for growers in all areas of the Central Valley. Winter sanitation, the removal and destruction of mummy nuts remaining in the trees after harvest has been particularly hindered by the lack of rainfall. Following the significant losses caused by Navel Orange Worm, NOW, in the 2017 crop, growers have been focused on removing and destroying this prime NOW over-wintering site. However, moisture from rain and fog is required to improve mummy removal and growers have struggled to adequately clean their orchards.

Hives waiting to be moved into orchards – Stanislaus County

Many growers with water available also started irrigating their orchard during December in order to maintain adequate soil moisture levels. While rain in recent weeks has helped, rainfall totals and more importantly, snow pack levels in the Sierra Nevada watershed are far below seasonal norms. Fortunately, storage levels in the state’s reservoirs are in good shape. Growers are hopeful that releases from the reservoir system will provide adequate water for irrigation during the 2018 growing season.

Beekeepers have been moving hives into the orchards for several weeks and will continue to do so until the start of the bloom. One point of concern is the lack of native forage available to support the bees until the start of the bloom. The lack of rain has translated into a lack of weeds in and around the orchards. Flowers from these weed species, including Chickweed and Sheperdspurse normally provide a source of nourishment during the pre-bloom period. However, this year, the lack of early rain means that weeds have germinated later than usual and there is currently very little for bees to forage on prior to the bloom.

Currently, advance examples of the early-blooming Sonora are moving rapidly into the green tip and pink tip stages, driven by the above normal temperatures that have reached into the lower 70’s. As may be seen in the accompanying photo, advanced examples of the early-bloom Sonora are now presenting a few “rogue” flowers. As this report was being prepared Nonpareil and the various California type varieties are also following closely, moving swiftly into the green tip stage.

We are anticipating beginning regular bloom reports on or around Friday, February 9, 2018.

By Mel Machado

Photos by Mel Machado

Winter irrigation – San Joaquin County

Sonora pink tip – San Joaquin County

Lack of native forage – Western Stanislaus County

Dormant Monterey buds – Merced County

Northern Conditions and Bloom Status

Current weather at the National Weather Service

Central Conditions and Bloom Status

Current weather at the National Weather Service

Southern Conditions and Bloom Status

Current weather at the National Weather Service

http://www.beeculture.com/catch-buzz-higher-temperatures-california-resulting-early-season-bloom/

Food Forecast: Bee Migration

ABC7 S2 E02 Bee Migration    January 8, 2018

Ginger Zee follows bees on a cross-country road trip to pollinate crops in this episode of "Food Forecast."

California's almond pollination brings in bees from across the country. Ginger Zee with ABC Television Network takes viewers through the process of getting these bees safely into California.

Take a few minutes to learn more about the importance of bees!

http://abc.go.com/…/episode-guide/season-02/02-bee-migration

A&O Forklift Almond Board of California

Pollination Conservation in Cities with Kevin Matteson

Ohio State University     Octoer 18, 2017

Pollinator Conservation in Cities webinar, recorded 10/18/2017 (63m)

http://u.osu.edu/beelab/pollinator-conservation-in-cities-with-kevin-matteson/

Matteson OSU Webinar_2017 PDF handout

Join Ohio State University’s next month's webinar: November 15 at 9AM Eastern/6AM Pacific
Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA: Making the World Safer for Pollinators
Phyllis Stiles, Founder & Director, Bee City USA & Bee Campus USA

For more info: http://u.osu.edu/beelab/

'Varroa Destructor Virus-1: It’s Here…'

By Karen Rennich  October 10, 2017

One of the best things about working in research is that it never fails to surprise – for good or for bad. And occasionally, it is not until much later that the surprise comes. In this case, the “surprise” arrived in the form of another Varroa-vectored, RNA virus, Varroa Destructor Virus-1, or VDV1.

Our University of Maryland lab has been leading the APHIS National Honey Bee Pest and Pathogen survey since 2010. During those years, we have processed thousands of samples from across most states for nosema spore load, Varroa load, pesticides, and viruses with the primary goal to survey whether exotics, not known to be in the US, are here or not. Secondarily, but almost as importantly, we also use the survey results to establish a nationwide honey bee health baseline. It cannot be overstated how important that baseline is, nor how vital archiving all of those samples are. In the case of viral samples, they are archived in a large -80C freezer at the USDA-ARS Beltsville Lab just down the road from us.

Dr. Eugene Ryabov, working at USDA-ARS with Dr. Jay Evans, decided to take a look into our archive freezer with the intent of re-processing those archived samples for VDV1. And we are glad that he did.  After doing a sweep of 2016 samples, he found VDV1 in >64% of all samples, making it just less prevalent and second only to Deformed Wing Virus (currently found in ~90% of all colonies). Reaching further back into that freezer, Dr. Ryabov found that only 2 colonies were positive from our 2010 survey samples – 1 in Indiana and 1 in Pennsylvania, and that temporal snapshot [below] shows the spread of this virus in just 6 years.

 

VDV1 is a species of RNA viruses under the genus iflavirus. Other iflaviruses include Sacbrood virus, Slow Bee Paralysis virus and its closest relative, Deformed Wing virus. Because we have methodically stored all historic samples, it will be possible, looking at the variants of this virus in the US and the world, to possibly help resolve how and when this virus arrived on our shores.  It is important to note that this virus is also present in Hawaii (the Big Island) so it has already migrated beyond the lower 48 states.

In addition to field samples, the APHIS National Survey also asks beekeepers to report colony loss numbers for the 3 months prior to being sampled. Using those losses, it may be possible to correlate those losses now with VDV1 infections and/or the levels of the virus present. This finding, and the further research it demands, provides a unique window into the forensics of this infection.

Additional information about this virus, the details used to screen for it and the possible risks to US honey bee colonies will be published in “Ryabov, E.V., Childers, A.K., Chen, Y., Madella, S., Nessa, A., vanEngelsdorp, D., Evans, J.D. (2017) Recent spread of Varroa destructor virus-1, a honey bee pathogen, in the United States. (Submitted)”.

The notice below was sent to all members of the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) on October 2nd.

Presence of Varroa destructor virus in the U.S.

Using RNA sequencing methods, the honey bee virus Varroa destructor virus-1 (VDV1, also known as Deformed wing virus strain B) was discovered in US honey bee samples by Dr. Eugene Ryabov, while working in the USDA-ARS Bee Research Laboratory (BRL) under the supervision of Drs. Jay Evans and Judy Chen. With guidance from the Bee Informed Partnership (University of Maryland, Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp) and USDA-APHIS (Dr. Robyn Rose), the BRL screened an extensive set of research samples along with U.S. bee samples collected during the USDA-APHIS National Honey Bee Disease survey.  This screening confirmed that VDV was widespread in the US in 2016 and far less common in 2010. Thanks to stored samples from the National Honey Bee Disease survey, it will now be possible to track the spread of this virus in the US and guide work for virus control in order to assure the good health of honey bees and maintain them as the primary pollinator of agricultural crops. There is no indication that VDV1 is significantly more virulent than DWV in US honey bees, and the advice to reduce levels of Varroa mites remains the same for both viruses. We are seeking to inform colleagues of this discovery primarily since VDV1 is not detectable using current genetic markers for DWV, and therefore laboratory methods will need to be tailored to detect this virus. Those involved with the National Honey Bee Disease Survey will notice that VDV1 is now a reported agent in this survey.

https://beeinformed.org/2017/10/10/varroa-destructor-virus-1-its-here/

Rewilding Your Land: Blessing of the Bees - Sam Droege - TEDx Washington Square

TEDx Talks     Sam Droege  

Sam Droege shares the magical world of native bee species, helping us understand the threats that face these unique populations and what we as humans can do to live more consciously and in harmony with these critical pollinators. 

SAM DROEGE is an author and biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. He's an international expert on both birds and pollinator species. Sam has produced many grassroots programs: Bioblitz, Frogwatch USA, Cricket Crawl that enlist volunteers to inventory local flora and fauna. Currently he is developing an inventory and monitoring program for native bees, online identification guides for North American bees at discoverlife.org, and with Jessica Zelt reviving the North American Bird Phenology Program.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fF3fWdwhEhw

After Massive Bee Kill, Beekeepers Want Answers From Fresno County

Capital Public Radio / News     By Julia Metric    May 16, 2017

Dead bees in Reedley, CA from colonies belonging to Rafael Reynaga. (Photo courtesy of Rafael Reynaga.) 

The Beekeeper

When Rafael Reynaga came to check on his bee colonies in a Fresno almond orchard, he found a carpet full of dead bees on the ground.

Reynaga picked up a hive and found two inches of bees at the bottom. He says most were dead, but a few were still moving.

Dead bees reek, Reynaga says, like a dead rat.

He's been working with bees since the 1980s but he says he'd never experienced a bee kill firsthand until this February.

He'd lent two hundred hives to his brother, fellow beekeeper Raul Reynaga. The latter had a pollination contract with an almond grower in Reedley on the east side of Fresno. 

He suspects his honeybees died from pesticide exposure.

“The bees act in a specific way when they are poisoned,” adds Reynaga. “They fly in circles close to the ground.”

Apiarist Rafael Reynaga checks bee colonies in Tulare County

To Reynaga these bee deaths point to a pesticide spray to blooming crops. But he says his hives went in before the almond bloom. The closest blooming crop were nectarines.

Reynaga filed a "Report of Loss” with the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. He says it’s a big hit to his business - a $100,000 loss.

Protecting The Bees

Almond pollination is the busiest time of year for California’s commercial beekeepers. They scramble around the state as they move their colonies into orchards just ahead of the bloom.

Gene Brandi is president of the American Beekeeping Federation and a longtime beekeeper from Madera.

Brandi says he works with fifteen different growers across the state during pollination. It’s a logistical feat to move thousands of hives into place just before almond bloom while weather changes hour by hour. Keeping the bees healthy and safe is a huge priority.

During pollination, some beekeepers rely on a notification system to find out about pesticide applications close to their hives.

Here’s how the notification system works in Fresno County. Beekeepers can register the location of hives as they place them for pollination. It’s voluntary. The county pins those locations to a digital bee map.

This interactive map shows approximate bee locations in Fresno County. (Credit: County of Fresno)

Growers, or the pesticide applicators they work with, must file a "Notice of Intent" with the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner if they plan to apply anything toxic to bees according to the label. 

The county has 16 hours to check the spray location against the bee map and reply to the grower (or pesticide applicator) with contact details for anyone with registered hives within a one mile radius.

The last step: the grower (or pesticide applicator) is required to message registered beekeepers with a heads-up 48 hours ahead of the spray application.

Some beekeepers choose to register their hives and receive notification, but many do not, according to the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner's office. They say several beekeepers in the bee kill areas were not registered for February pollination.

Gene Brandi says he registers his hives with the county. It’s a valuable source of information.

But here’s the catch. Brandi says the notification system is not the main safeguard in protecting honeybees from pesticide exposure.

It’s the label.

The Label Is The Law

Just because a beekeeper gets a phone or email notification about a pesticide application does not mean they’ll move their bees out, explains Gene Brandi.

The bees are in the almond orchards to do a job - pollination. “We can’t move them out until it’s done,” says Brandi.

In California, protection for honey bees comes in the form of bee warnings on specific pesticide labels.  Carzol SP insecticide bee warning label

The label is the law. That means regardless of where hives are registered, growers (and pesticide applicators on staff) are required to follow the label’s language.

Brandi is confident growers, pesticide applicators, beekeepers and county ag officials all understand following the label to mean: only apply these pesticides at night, when honey bees are not working.

Brandi is counting on the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner to get to the bottom of what caused the bee kills in February. Regardless of the cause, he says, “This shouldn’t have happened.”

For Brandi, seeing pictures of Reynaga’s dead bees from Reedley brought back unwelcome memories of a bee kill his brother experienced decades ago.

“You can see it’s more than a claim,” says Brandi.

“It’s losses they have experienced. It’s real. And it’s a major negative economic impact on their businesses and on the growers, too. The growers are paying for good bees and they got these dead ones that aren’t going to pollinate one nut.”

Brandi says it’s key for the entire agriculture community to follow best practices so bees are protected while crops get treated.

The Almond Board of California adopted best management practices in 2014. Those include not applying insecticides during bloom and ensuring fungicides are applied late in the day and into the evening when bees are not out collecting pollen.

“Many growers have adopted these practices, but there are still quite a few that have not. They don’t have to. It’s strictly advisory,” explains Brandi.

Earlier this spring Brandi had a meeting at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. Brandi urged them to take a closer look at the impact of popular tank mixes on the health of honey bee colonies and consider bee warning labels for them.

(A tank mix is a cocktail of pesticides in single tank.) 

"After all, tank mixes are what our bees 'see' in the field, not just individual pesticides," says Brandi. 

Brandi argues that even if a tank mix doesn't kill adult bees outright, it may impact the brood and hurt the bee colony longterm. 

According to Brandi, the acting head of the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs said the agency would look into tank mixes later this year.

The Investigation

There were several clusters of bee kills in Fresno this winter. They happened on the east side of Fresno County in Sanger and Reedley, where Rafael Reynaga’s colonies were.

The other area is Kerman, on the west side of the county, where loss reports from several beekeepers total in the ballpark of $2 million.

Tom Ullmann works for the Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner’s office and he’s investigating the Kerman incident. On a tour of the Kerman area, he points out one spot where honeybee colonies got hit, between two vast almond orchards.

Tom Ullmann works for the Fresno County Department of Agriculture

The county collected bee bodies and swabs from outside the hives at this site and sent them to a lab at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation

As part of the investigation, Ullmann’s examined pesticide use reports in Kerman for the days leading up to the bee kill.

“So far, there’s nothing we’ve found that has been done that is in violation of any regulatory requirements according to the label,” says Ullmann.

In other words, pesticide applications were reportedly completed by midnight.

But the preliminary finding leaves bee broker Joe Traynor doubtful.

“I can’t totally blame the county,” Traynor says, “but they depend on use reports and those are only as good as the honesty of the guy that signs them, saying what he put on and what time of day he put it on. Anybody can fudge a use report.”

Traynor’s been wrangling bees for 50 years.

Think of the bee broker as the middleman for pollination. They gather bee hives from various beekeepers to fill contracts with growers. The bee broker gets a cut from both parties.

Traynor was the one who brought Rafael Reynaga’s hives to Reedley. Bee colonies Traynor put in Kerman also got hit. And, he says, bees he placed for pollination in Sanger orchards were hit even worse.

 Bee broker Joe Traynor, left, and beekeeper Rafael Reynaga in Tulare County.

To Traynor, the volume of dead bees and their location suggest exposure to a pesticide – the kind with a bee warning on the label. He suspects a spray was applied into the early morning hours.

Stace Leoni is Fresno County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner and she’s leading the bee kill investigation.

Leoni concedes that pesticide use reports, filed after the application occurs, rely on an honor system. But she doesn’t find it credible that pesticide applicators would intentionally break the rules.

“Why would you want to spend money on a product and apply it if it wasn’t going to work? Or do it at the wrong time or use too much?” asks Leoni.

In his search for answers, Traynor’s focused on the timing of the bee kill and what was going on nearby. He placed the hives in almond orchards before bloom, so there was no forage.

“But bees will visit nearby orchards up to two or three miles away to find bloom,” Traynor explains. He points to nearby blooming nectarines.

The county’s bee lab results are not yet available. But USDA lab reports show several insecticides in bee bodies and bee pollen from Kerman. One of them is Carzol. It’s commonly used by nectarine growers to control an insect called thrips. 

In both bee kill areas there are nectarines within three miles of almonds.

Leoni says the county’s preliminary finding is that a Carzol application to nearby nectarines was completed by midnight.

The county has come under vocal criticism from bee brokers, including Traynor, who say the county must do more to enforce night-time sprays for pesticides with bee warning labels.

“A lot of statements are being made that we don't care or that we're not turning over every stone to figure this out. That’s just not true,” Leoni says.

Leoni insists the county is looking into every possible cause of the February bee deaths. And she says the investigation takes time.

“We're doing the very best we can do because we don't want it to happen again,” explains Leoni.

“But we don't go out in the beginning with accusations. We ask questions. The whole point is to stay objective and try to figure out what happened.”

Leoni says it’s too early to say what lessons could come out of the bee kill. But she concedes that “some materials that are registered may need to be looked at again as far as their toxicity to bees.”

“It could be that the window (for spraying) has to be even shorter in the evening, that you have to finish six hours before the next time bees actively visit. Or maybe a lower dosage. I don’t know,” Leoni says.

Regenerating The Bee Colonies

Rafael Reynaga stands on a grassy mound nestled along the Fresno foothills. The fragrance of citrus blossom filters through the air. 

Citrus trees in Fresno County

This idyllic bee yard is where he brought his hives after the bee kill in Reedley. 

Reynaga cleaned out the stricken hives with bleach to remove possible contamination from dead bee bodies. Then he added brood from healthy colonies and a queen cell for each colony.

He put the bee boxes in their own spot where there’s plenty of forage from citrus bloom. It's like a bee sanctuary.

“I put them where they can thrive. Now, only time will tell,” says Reynaga as he looks out over the hives.

“I’m not going to make honey with these bees – they are just recovering. But at least I can rebuild the hive and put this thing behind me.”

Reynaga doubts he’ll put his bees in the Fresno County bee kill areas for almond pollination next year. “Even if I don’t put bees there again, I want this to stop,” says Reynaga.

“Because in the future, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else or me, down the road, in another place.”

At least six different beekeepers (or bee brokers) claimed losses of an estimated 8,000 bee hives in Fresno County.

Despite what happened in February, you can see from the green fuzzy nuts on almond trees that Fresno’s almond orchards were pollinated.

The county investigation is ongoing. It could be six months to a year before they issue a final report. 

Green nuts on almond trees in Fresno County

READ ARTICLE, LISTEN TO TWO RADIO BROADCASTS, AND LINK TO MORE RELATED STORIES: http://www.capradio.org/95104

 

Bees Face Heavy Pesticide Peril from Drawn-out Sources

Phys.org    By Blaine Friedlander    April 20, 2017

A honeybee collects the pollen from an apple blossom. Credit: Kent Loeffler/ProvidedHoneybees - employed to pollinate crops during the blooming season - encounter danger due to lingering and wandering pesticides, according to an analysis of the bee's own food.

Researchers used 120 pristine honeybee colonies that were placed near 30 apple orchards around New York state. After allowing the bees to forage for several days during the apple flowering period, the scientists examined each hive's "beebread" – the bees' food stores made from gathered pollen – to search for traces of pesticides.

In 17 percent of colonies, the beebread revealed the presence of acutely high levels of pesticide exposure, while 73 percent were found to have chronic exposure.

The new Cornell study was published April 19 in Nature Scientific Reports.

"Our data suggest pesticides are migrating through space and time," said lead author Scott McArt, assistant professor of entomology, who explained that bees may be gathering pollen from nontarget wildflowers, field margins and weeds like dandelions where insecticides seem to linger.

"Surprisingly, there is not much known about the magnitude of risk or mechanisms of pesticide exposure when honeybees are brought in to pollinate major agricultural crops," he said. "Beekeepers are very concerned about pesticides, but there's very little field data. We're trying to fill that gap in knowledge, so there's less mystery and more fact regarding this controversial topic."

More than 60 percent of the found pesticides were attributed to orchards and surrounding farmland that were not sprayed during the apple bloom season, according to the study. McArt said that persistent insecticides aimed at other crops may be surrounding the orchards. In addition, pre-bloom sprays in orchards may accumulate in nearby flowering weeds.

Honeybees create honey in their hive through the topped-out combs, and they keep beebread - their food - in the other combs. Credit: Emma Mullen/Provided"We found risk was attributed to many different types of pesticides. Neonicotinoids were not the whole story, but they were part of the story." he said. "Because neonicotinoids are persistent in the environment and accumulate in pollen and nectar, they are of concern. But one of our major findings is that many other pesticides contribute to risk."

Mass-blooming crops flower in big bursts during the pollination season, so crop producers rent armies of honeybees to supplement the work of wild bees. "There are so many flowers at one given time, often there may not be enough wild bees to perform sufficient pollination services," said McArt.

Crop pollination by insects, particularly bees, can be valued at more than $15 billion annually to the U.S. economy, according to research by Nicholas Calderone, professor emeritus of entomology. Producers and beekeepers are now concerned about the high rates of hive declines – estimated to be about 42 percent in 2014-15 domestically. In New York, the losses are often over 50 percent.

To understand the economics, beekeepers may charge more than $100 per colony for pollination services for apple producers in New York, almond producers in California and blueberry growers in North Carolina. For large farms, several hundred to a thousand pollinating colonies are brought in via large trucks.

Commercial beekeepers sometimes assume they will lose entire colonies, which is why pollination service rates have tripled or quadrupled over the past 15 years, McArt said. He recently shared his research with growers at a New York State Integrated Pest Management meeting, and several farmers said they are interested in altering crop management practices to reduce honeybee injury.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Agriculture and Markets assembled a Pollinator Protection Plan in 2016. Scientists are developing best management practices, reviving pollinator populations, researching and monitoring, and developing outreach and educational programs for beekeepers and producers.

Co-authors on the study, "High Pesticide Risk to Honeybees Despite Low Focal Crop Pollen Collection During Pollination of a Mass Blooming Crop," are lab manager Ashley Fersch; graduate student Nelson Milano; Lauren Truitt '17; and former research associate Katalin Böröczky.

https://phys.org/news/2017-04-bees-heavy-pesticide-peril-drawn-out.html

Bee Declines Threatens U.S. Crop Pollination

Science Daily   February 19, 2017

A new study of wild bees identifies 139 counties in key agricultural regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, west Texas and the Mississippi River valley that face a worrisome mismatch between falling wild bee supply and rising crop pollination demand. Credit: PNASThe first-ever study to map U.S. wild bees suggests they are disappearing in the country's most important farmlands -- from California's Central Valley to the Midwest's corn belt and the Mississippi River valley.

If wild bee declines continue, it could hurt U.S. crop production and farmers' costs, said Taylor Ricketts, a conservation ecologist at the University of Vermont, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting panel, Plan Bee: Pollinators, Food Production and U.S. Policy on Feb. 19.

"This study provides the first national picture of wild bees and their impacts on pollination," said Ricketts, Director of UVM's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, noting that each year $3 billion of the U.S. economy depends on pollination from native pollinators like wild bees.

At AAAS, Ricketts briefed scholars, policy makers, and journalists on how the national bee map, first published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in late 2015, can help to protect wild bees and pinpoint habitat restoration efforts.

At the event, Ricketts also introduced a new mobile app that he is co-developing to help farmers upgrade their farms to better support wild bees.

"Wild bees are a precious natural resource we should celebrate and protect," said Ricketts, Gund Professor in UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. "If managed with care, they can help us continue to produce billions of dollars in agricultural income and a wonderful diversity of nutritious food."

TROUBLE ZONES

The map identifies 139 counties in key agricultural regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas, and Mississippi River valley, which appear to have most worrisome mismatch between falling wild bee supply and rising crop pollination demand.

These counties tend to be places that grow specialty crops -- like almonds, blueberries and apples -- that are highly dependent on pollinators. Or they are counties that grow less dependent crops -- like soybeans, canola and cotton -- in very large quantities.

Of particular concern, some crops most dependent on pollinators -- including pumpkins, watermelons, pears, peaches, plums, apples and blueberries -- appeared to have the strongest pollination mismatch, growing in areas with dropping wild bee supply and increasing in pollination demand.

Globally, more than two-thirds of the most important crops either benefit from or require pollinators, including coffee, cacao, and many fruits and vegetables.

Pesticides, climate change and diseases threaten wild bees -- but their decline may be caused by the conversion of bee habitat into cropland, the study suggests. In 11 key states where the map shows bees in decline, the amount of land tilled to grow corn spiked by 200 percent in five years -- replacing grasslands and pastures that once supported bee populations.

RISING DEMAND, FALLING SUPPLY

Over the last decade, honeybee keepers facing colony losses have struggled with rising demand for commercial pollination services, pushing up the cost of managed pollinators -- and the importance of wild bees.

"Most people can think of one or two types of bee, but there are 4,000 species in the U.S. alone," said Insu Koh, a UVM postdoctoral researcher who co-hosted the AAAS panel and led the study.

"When sufficient habitat exists, wild bees are already contributing the majority of pollination for some crops," Koh adds. "And even around managed pollinators, wild bees complement pollination in ways that can increase crop yields."

MAKING THE MAPS

A team of seven researchers -- from UVM, Franklin and Marshall College, University of California at Davis, and Michigan State University -- created the maps by first identifying 45 land-use types from two federal land databases, including croplands and natural habitats. Then they gathered detailed input from national and state bee experts about the suitability of each land-use type for providing wild bees with nesting and food resources.

The scientists built a bee habitat model that predicts the relative abundance of wild bees for every area of the contiguous United States, based on their quality for nesting and feeding from flowers. Finally, the team checked and validated their model against bee collections and field observations in many actual landscapes.


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of VermontNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170219165128.htm

A Bee Mogul Confronts the Crisis in His Fields

The New York Times    By Stephanie Strom     February 16, 2017

 

Bret Adee’s family operation provides more than two billion bees to farmers who need to pollinate their crops. Before the hives are moved to the California almond groves where they are used in January and February, they are kept on a cattle ranch at a safe distance from pesticide and herbicide sprays. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Beekeeping on an industrial scale is central to American agriculture,
and “colony collapse” has proved to be a severe test.

KERN COUNTY, Calif. — A soft light was just beginning to outline the Tejon Hills as Bret Adee counted rows of wizened almond trees under his breath.

He placed a small white flag at the end of every 16th row to show his employees where they should place his beehives. Every so often, he fingered the buds on the trees. “It won’t be long,” he said.

Mr. Adee (pronounced Ay-Dee) is America’s largest beekeeper, and this is his busy season. Some 92,000 hives had to be deployed before those buds burst into blossom so that his bees could get to the crucial work of pollination.

But it is notable that he has a business at all. For the last decade, a mysterious plague has killed billions of bees every year.

“Every year at this time of year, we wonder are there going to be enough bees,” said Bob Curtis, director of agricultural affairs at the Almond Board, a trade group for almond growers.

Pollination services, as the bees’ work is known in the industry, has risen this year to between $180 to $200 a hive from an average of $154 a hive in 2006, Mr. Curtis said.

There would be no almond crop — not to mention avocados, apples, cherries and alfalfa — without honeybees. Of the 100 crops that account for 90 percent of the food eaten around the globe, 71 rely on bee pollination, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

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A mesmerizing look inside the beehives and pollination operation of a third-generation
commercial beekeeper as he ships his bees across California for almond season.

 By MELISSA LYTTLE, JOSHUA THOMAS and LOGAN JAFFE on 
Publish Date February 16, 2017. 
Photo by Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times.
Technology by Samsung. 

Demand for Mr. Adee’s bees is soaring in part because a poorly understood plague, known as colony collapse, has decimated the nation’s bee population in the last decade. The cause is widely debated: Some cite climate change affecting habitat, others the proliferation of certain pesticides, but most believe the problem has multiple factors.

Whatever the reason, in the year that ended in April 2016, 44 percent of the overall commercial bee population died. In a typical year before the plague, only 10 percent to 15 percent would have died, and Mr. Adee’s losses would have been between 3 and 7 percent.

“Over the last five years, I think this small industry could easily have lost $1.2 billion worth of bees,” Mr. Adee said. To put that in context: The total United States commercial bee business had a value of only about $500 million in 2012, according to the Honey Bee Advisory Council, created by Monsanto in 2012 to study its impact on bee health.

Nor is the problem limited to honeybees. The bumblebee was scheduled to be listed under the Endangered Species Act on Feb. 10, but the Trump administration put the plan aside, pending further review. The E.P.A. has not responded to requests for comment.

This is pollination season for America’s almond trees. As a result, in recent weeks almost two-thirds of the country’s commercial bees have started buzzing through California’s orchards. Some of the bees have been shipped in from as far away as Florida.

Adee Honey Farms has some 92,000 hives, each with roughly 40,000 bees, about 3.5 billion bees in total. Most spend the winter here in hives scattered across a 3,000-acre cattle ranch surrounded by low hills with easy access to water, a necessity for such a concentrated population.

During pollination season, the bees are loaded onto a dozen flatbed trucks and nine or 10 tractor-trailers and ferried to work, starting first in the almond orchards in late January, then moving to other California crops like broccoli and avocados. About 10 percent of the Adee bees are dispatched to Oregon and Washington State, where they pollinate cherry and apple trees.

Bret Adee checked inside a hive on a ranch near Bakersfield, Calif. 
Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

They work until early May, when the trucks take them to the Midwest for the summer.

Like other commercial beekeepers struggling with the population decline, Mr. Adee has stayed afloat, in part, by acquiring the colonies of other beekeepers: The number of commercial beekeepers (those with more than 300 hives) has dropped, though no one is certain by how many.

He has also been forced to split his colonies to rebuild his stocks, a process that entails moving some bees out of one colony and fooling them into building colonies around new queens.

Nonetheless, his losses were so high last year that he had to borrow bees to fulfill his contracts. This year, thanks in part to the acquisition another beekeeper’s business, he had bees still waiting for work as he deployed his hives across California in late January.

He attributes this year’s relative good fortune to the decline last summer of soy aphids, a tiny, translucent, invasive insect from Asia that devastates soybean crops in America. Fewer of the pests meant that many soybean farmers in South Dakota delivered only one application of the pesticide known as neonicotinoids, Mr. Adee said, and the spraying occurred before the arrival of his bees. (Adee bees spend the summer in North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Minnesota, and Kelvin Adee raises queen bees in Texas and Mississippi.)

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that are widely used to kill off aphids and other bugs. Some studies tie them to the declining health of bees and a drop in the populations of birds that depend on those insects for food. In 2013, the European Union and several countries in other areas placed limits on the use of those insecticides.

“The more you study it, the more obvious it becomes: the relationship between the pesticides that have been sprayed everywhere over the last 10 years and what’s happening to bees,” Mr. Adee said.

Not that he blames any one thing for the problem. Rather, it is that comprehensive research is rarely done, which, he said, would implicate a variety of factors.

During the commotion of moving the hives, an employee, Alfredo Sosa, smoked the bees
to keep them calm. 
Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

James Frazier, a bee expert at Pennsylvania State University, agreed. The bee shortage has to do with the overall health of bees, and not one or two specific things. Bees are exposed to a variety of pesticides, all of which can affect their immune systems, he said. That in turn makes them less resistant to diseases and parasites carried by the varroa mite and enables the spread of viruses.

“It’s more complicated than trying to cure cancer,” Dr. Frazier said, “because bees are outside, where you have all these uncontrollable things working on them.

Bees from one keeper are mixing with those from other populations as their numbers fall. That may aid in the spread of diseases and parasites, said Ann Bartuska, the acting under secretary for research, education and economics at the Agriculture Department.

“There is no smoking gun,” Dr. Bartuska said. “We still are trying to tease out what combination of factors really leads to beehive health declines.”

Adee Honey Farms was started by Vernon Adee, Mr. Adee’s grandfather, during the Great Depression after he received a letter from his brother in Missouri that read: “I can’t sell chickens or hogs, but I’m doing well with honey. Be advised: Get a beehive.”

Vernon Adee and his son, Richard, raised bees for honey production only. But as that business began to suffer from competition from Chinese and Latin American honey producers, Bret Adee and his brother Kelvin, sons of Richard Adee, figured they needed to develop another business to keep the company afloat.

So in 1990, Bret Adee and his wife, Connie, packed their two children (they now have four) into a truck loaded with beehives and moved to Bakersfield, Calif. Today, the pollination business provides two-thirds of the company’s revenue and all of its profits, Mr. Adee said.

Bees were kept at a ranch outside of Bakersfield, Calif., before being transported
to almond groves. 
Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Because of imported honey, “There’s no money in honey any more,” he said. Nonetheless, his daughter Elizabeth has started selling the family’s honey in farmers’ markets, a tactic she hopes will help revive that portion of the business.

When the Adees arrived in Bakersfield in 1990, there were 411,000 acres of farmland planted with almond trees, according to the Agriculture Department. Since then, the number of acres of almond trees has more than doubled, and growers have adopted techniques that are less bee-friendly.

Growers previously flooded their orchards with warm water in the early spring to prevent frost from killing the buds. The water gave rise to grasses and weeds like dandelions and wild vetch between the rows of trees, giving the bees a source of pollen before the buds burst into bloom.

But now, growers aim to conserve water, and because weeds and grasses can trap cool air that can lead to frost, most almond ranchers spray herbicides to keep the rows between their trees free of unwanted growth.

To safeguard his bees, Mr. Adee’s employees lay a pad made of yeast, sugar and other nutrients under the lid of a hive to give the bees something to eat before the trees bloom.

He also scouts out areas close to uncultivated land or grazing areas with water nearby. His bees spent last fall and early winter in hives scattered about a ranch ringed by the foothills of the Diablo Range and close to aqueducts and other water sources. “They’re far away from anything bad for them,” he said.

At the ranch, cattle lazily grazed in the evening amid neatly stacked clusters of hives, looking on curiously when flatbed trucks pulled into load the bees for overnight journeys.

Hives were loaded by forklift onto trucks. Credit Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

The deployment of bees resembles a military operation, with Mr. Adee serving as its commander. Hives must be loaded onto trucks in the evening, four hives at a time on pallets precariously balanced on a forklift. Each truck transports 216 hives over dirt roads that, thanks to this season’s rain, were deeply rutted and thick with mud.

The Adee bees rent for $200 a hive. On average, Mr. Adee places two hives per acre of almond trees. A 4,500-acre almond orchard would require about 9,000 hives, although growers are free to specify the number of hives they want.

Commercial beekeepers are a tight-knit group, and most new contracts come as referrals from other beekeepers and clients. “It’s kind of like a grapevine,” Mr. Adee said. “If you have to advertise, then you’re not much of a beekeeper.”

During pollination season, he typically leaves home at 5:30 a.m. and heads for an orchard or field to map the day’s plan. He relies on two thermoses of coffee to keep him going.

Placing flags to mark the spots in orchards where hives are to be placed gives Mr. Adee a chance to survey the terrain. If a row of trees happens to have a low spot, he will place a flag a few rows away to ensure the hives do not stand in water. If his pickup slips in the mud, he makes a call to warn drivers not to take their much heavier equipment down the same path.

Mr. Adee marks plot maps with neon Sharpies, using a different color to indicate which crew is to deliver which bees to a particular spot.

After setting his crews in action — roughly 100 employees during pollination season, Mr. Adee then makes a second and sometimes a third round of deliveries to orchards, stopping occasionally to right a hive or gently squeeze the tips of branches to gauge when they might bud. He then has an idea when his bees might need to be fed again.

Hives look like small white dots on ranchland outside Bakersfield, Calif. Demand for pollination services has increased as a mysterious plague known as colony collapse has decimated the
nation’s bee population over the last decade.
 CreditKendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Between stops, he talks on the phone — when his cell gets a signal, that is. In one call, he spoke to his foreman about two trucks needing repair.

Then he called an independent trucker to see if he could move bees that night, diplomatically sidestepping the man’s request that he also hire a friend. “Well, I won’t know until tonight what’s needed,” Mr. Adee said.

After that, he called a lawyer, seeking counsel for a beekeeper who had lost his bees after the ranch across the street sprayed an organic phosphate. “It was an illegal application, and the county knows it,” he said. “But the county is dragging its feet. He needs some help.”

In 2006, David Hackenberg, another beekeeper with a large bee collection, lost 90 percent of them and coined the term colony collapse. Mr. Adee had no such problem that year. I in the documentary made that year, “The Vanishing of the Bees,” he can be heard saying,“We haven’t seen any of this colony-collapse disorder here.”

Shortly after the film came out, though, he also lost almost all the family’s bees.

“Still, I was convinced my problem was a virus, not what David had,” Mr. Adee said. “I thought it would take three years for it to run its course, and then we’d be done with it.”

But the losses stretched on, into a fourth and then fifth year. Last year, after having lost roughly half of his 90,000 hives, he joined Mr. Hackenberg, other beekeepers and environmental groups in a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

The suit contends that the E.P.A. broke the law by failing to require registration of seeds coated in pesticides, as many genetically engineered seeds are. “E.P.A.’s actions and inactions have caused both acute honeybee kills and chronic effects leading to excess bee colony mortality, excess bird mortality, nationwide water and soil contamination, and other environmental and economic harms,” the plaintiffs argued.

There is no federal insurance program to cover beekeepers. The federal 2008 Farm Bill did allocate $50 million in emergency assistance to cover losses in livestock, farm-raised fish and honeybees, but only through 2011.

A year later, the Agriculture Department estimated that beekeepers had spent $2 billion to replace the 10 million hives they had lost in the six years since bee colonies first began experiencing declines.

Here, the almond trees are just beginning to bloom. Mr. Adee’s bees work alongside their boss, who is working the phones.

Someone on the phone asked him to address a matter that had nothing to do with his bees. “I don’t know that I have time for that,” Mr. Adee said. “Or rather, I know I don’t have time.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/16/business/a-bee-mogul-confronts-the-crisis-in-his-field.html?_r=0

 

Precision Spray Pollination Would Negate Problems Such As Not Having Enough Honey Bees, Distribution of Pollen-borne Viruses and Insufficient Pollen Distribution

CATCH THE BUZZ      February 2, 2017

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Spray pollination may someday replace bees in orchards, withholding irrigation before cherry harvest doesn’t do much and adding hand pruning to mechanical pruning every other year boosts yields.

That’s what Matthew Whiting, Washington State University plant physiologist, told growers at the Northcentral Washington Stone Fruit Day in Wenatchee on Jan. 17.

Precision spray pollination would negate problems such as not having enough honeybees, distribution of pollen-borne viruses and insufficient pollen distribution, Whiting said.

Pure pollen can be kept alive in a liquid state for two hours without loss of germinability, he said.

“We are pursuing this further. We are using an electrostatic sprayer for 12 to 14 gallons per acre. Electrostatic because the (flower) stigma has a negative charge,” he said.

For years, growers have debated whether withholding irrigation a week or two before harvest yields better cherries. Whiting said two years of studies led him to conclude “it’s a much ado about nothing.”

While recognizing there are many variables — including soil depth and type, genotype of the cultivar and rootstock and types of irrigation systems — Whiting set up trials withholding water from seven to 17 days before harvest and found no effect on bud density, bloom, firmness, cracking, size or quality.

Soil moisture dropped but trees showed no significant stress, he said.

The only potential benefit was a 2 percent increase in soluble solids, mostly sugar, which could be tasted but only with Lapins and not Chelans, he said. In one case, soluble solids increased 10 to 13 percent and firmness dropped about 6 percent, he said.

Mechanical pruning of planar or fruiting-wall style orchards saves labor and can save 20 percent or more in annual production costs and improve worker safety and efficiency, Whiting said.

Powered by tractors, mechanical pruners hedge the sides of trees and top them. There are more ragged cuts and only half as much wood is removed so a good plan is to remove more wood by following mechanical pruning with hand pruning every other year, he said.

Mechanical pruning is 23 to 29 percent faster than hand pruning. Mechanical combined with hand pruning is 66 percent more efficient than hand pruning alone, he said.

Fruit weight is slightly smaller with mechanical pruning but yield is greater because more wood and more buds are left, he said.

Hand pruning cherry trees costs an estimated $741 per acre versus $168 for mechanical only and $590 for a combination, he said.

http://www.beeculture.com/catch-buzz-precision-spray-pollination-negate-problems-not-enough-honey-bees-distribution-pollen-borne-viruses-insufficient-pollen-distribution/?utm_source=Catch+The+Buzz&utm_campaign=737aa8d8ba-Catch_The_Buzz_4_29_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0272f190ab-737aa8d8ba-256242233