There has been a whirlwind of activity since my last report in February.
CSBA contributed funds to send the "Bee Girl" Sarah Red-Laird (an awesome ambassador for bees) and myself to participate with a display and 5 bee activity tables at Pheasant Fest in Milwaukee, WI. It was an excellent opportunity to collaborate with the Pheasants Forever group and Pete Berthelson on promoting forage for bees and other wildlife. All of the postcards colored by youth and mailed to US Secretary of Ag, Tom Vilsack, must have influenced the decision to spend $3M to encourage Midwest farmers' conservation efforts and plantings for bee forage. ABF American Honey Queen Executive Director Anna Kettlewell was instrumental in recruiting the WI Honey Producers Association including President Derald Kettlewell, past President Tim Fulton, the current WI Honey Queen and past Honey Princess and a plethora of other volunteers to staff the activity tables.
I had the opportunity to meet with legislators at the Farm Bureau-hosted legislative reception and work with Platinum Advisors representative Holly Fraumeni on Assembly Bill 2185 introduced by Assembly member Susan Eggman that will hopefully encourage public land owners to consider honey bees in future land use plans.
Ag Day at the Capital was another opportunity to connect with legislators and a photo op with CA Secretary of Ag, Karen Ross, an active supporter of bees. Much appreciation goes to Carlen Jupe for coordinating and in the staffing of our booth by Eric Mussen, Kathy Keatley Garvey, Bill Cervenka and the Sacramento Area Beekeepers Association's Marti Ikehara, and of course, Haagen-Dazs for donating the ice cream. Read Kathy's entire blog here.
Almond pollination has come and gone. There were strange dynamics in almonds. The shortage of water resulted in some growers making the decision to pull out older trees reducing the need for bees. There were enough colonies to go around and there was perfect pollination weather again during bloom. I think almond growers can expect another close to record harvest. Unfortunately, some beekeepers, including myself, got sucker punched and lost large numbers of bees to what we are still uncertain. 50% of our colonies were affected. They all went into almonds at about equal strength with low mite loads. Towards the end of bloom, we experienced massive amounts of dead bees around the hives and it continued for several weeks after the bees were moved on to avocado orchards. I have always felt pretty safe in almonds but when an 8-10 framer that we expect to double in strength goes backwards to a 6, something is wrong. There were reports that a few growers may have been tank-mixing fungicide with insect growth regulators (IGRs) for a "free ride" to save labor cost. There were also reports that pesticides were being sprayed on alfalfa fields to control weevils within flying distance. Could the impact on bees have been avoided by releasing bees 7-10 days sooner without much impact on almond production? Some beekeepers may opt to stay home next season without some kind of guarantees that this will not happen again. Whatever is going on is making the costs to beekeepers skyrocket and this cost has to somehow be recouped.
Subsequent meetings with EPA representatives gave no indication that labeling language on fungicides and IGR labels or other chemicals including adjuvants would be changed to make them more protective of bees any time soon or even before the 2015 almond bloom.
CDFA was concerned enough to devote a whole day of their board's time to listen to beekeeper concerns in early April. Beekeepers gave some excellent presentations that focused on the need for more clean forage, the need for more help to defeat our # 1 pest - Varroa, and help to improve pesticide labeling to be more protective of bees. The Almond Board of CA is equally concerned and hopefully can convince more growers to give bees a break and delay the spraying of anything in the future until after the bees are gone. A meeting has been scheduled with CDPR later this month to address this situation as well. Hopefully, something positive comes out of all of this.
I really hope everybody gets a decent honey crop out of the oranges!
Bill Lewis, CSBA President