Beekeepers Prepare For Pollination    By Chris Kaufman    January 26, 2016

Philip Russell, left, with fellow beekeepers from Strachan Apiaries, take inventory of
their bees on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at a holding area in Yuba County.

In the coming months, millions of bees will be deployed to help pollinate orchards.

"There is a lot of doom and gloom in the industry right now with unexplained bee colony losses, drought, varroa mites, viruses and dropping honey prices," said Philip Russell, with Strachan Apiaries in Yuba City. "I guess the bright spot would be that we are still here and so are the bees." 

Russell, who was out with a crew on Tuesday taking inventory of some of their estimated 11,000 bees, said there are other positive notes.

"There's also becoming more awareness about the plight of the bees and other pollinators," Russell said. "This awareness has reached all the way up to the president, who set certain policies in order to ensure cooperation between government entities and beekeepers."

According to the White House website, honey bee pollination adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year and in 2014 the president established a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.

Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, detailed some of the issues surrounding honeybees and the substantial role they play in agriculture.

"There's a problem with nutrition. There are long periods of time in the summer when there's nothing for them to eat," said Kimsey, who is also the director of the R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology. "Sugar water doesn't have the nutrients needed, and it's especially a problem for baby bees."

She said mites and the diseases transmitted by mites are also problematic. The pesticides and the miticides used to control the mites can negatively affect bees.

Russell said awareness about the plight has brought a boom to smaller operations and hobbyist beekeepers but even that has a downside.

"They don't always know the rules and regulations that have been followed by beekeepers for years or even those set forth by each county ag commissioner," Russell said. "These include a spacing minimum of a mile from other beekeeper locations that are already established, registering your hives and locations with the county."

Russell said that ensures smaller operations and hobbyist beekeepers who don't treat their bees for pests or diseases will not infect neighboring hives.

"Commercial beekeepers are aging out, and it's hard work," said Kimsey, who added the average age is about 60. "There's a big push to have hobbyist beekeepers, which is good but not enough to handle all the commercial operations."

Kimsey said in the coming months, growers will have to import 1.5 million colonies, and with 30,000 to 50,000 per colony, that's a lot of bees.

"The number is huge and they simply can't keep enough healthy bees in California," Kimsey said. "Moving the bees, especially along bumpy roads, can also stress them."

Russell said most of their business is within the surrounding counties, but they have clients as far south as Fresno.

"Locally, we use them on almonds, prunes, and crops used for seed like melons, sunflowers, squash, pumpkins, onions, carrots, cilantro and alfalfa," said Russell. "People also use them in Washington and Oregon for apples and cherries."