Mother Jones By Tom Philpott April 28, 2014
California dominates almond production like Saudi Arabia wishes it dominated oil. More than 80 percent of the almonds consumed on Planet Earth hail from there. Boosted by surging demand from China—overall, 70 percent of the state's output is exported—California's almond groves are expanding. The delicious nut's acreage grew 25 percent between 2006 and 2013. In a previous post, I noted how the almond boom is helping fuel a potentially disastrous water-pumping frenzy in a drought-stricken state.
Now comes more unsettling news: California's almond groves are being blamed for a large recent honeybee die-off.
What do almond trees have to do with honeybees? It turns out that when you grow almond trees in vast monocrops, pollination from wild insects doesn't do the trick. Each spring, it takes 1.6 million honeybee hives to pollinate the crop—about a million of which must be trucked in from out of state. Altogether, the crop requires the presence of a jaw-dropping 60 percent of the managed honeybees in the entire country, the US Department of Agricultural reports.
A mutual dependence has arisen between the state's almond growers and the nation's apiaries. For the 1,500 beekeepers who deliver "pollination services" to the almond industry each year, the gig provides 60 percent of their annual income—more lucrative, in other words, than selling the honey they produce, reportsthe Bakersfield Californian, a newspaper in the heart of almond country. "Without the almond industry, the bee industry wouldn't exist," one large-scale beekeeper told the paper in February.