Click to EnlargeMillions of the California Almond industry’s hardest working partners – honey bees – are buzzing into orchards to pollinate billions of almond blossoms in the process to produce this year’s crop. In doing so they will feast on almond pollen, honey bees’ first natural food source following winter. The essential, age-old relationship between honey bees and almonds is the single largest managed pollination event in the world.
“Through research we know that almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees,” said Bob Curtis, Director of Agricultural Affairs at Almond Board of California (ABC). “Research also shows that bee hives increase in strength during the time they spend pollinating almonds. This allows many beekeepers to then split their hives and grow their apiaries, giving the beekeepers and their bees a good foundation for the upcoming year. After their stay in the almond orchards, bees move on to pollinate more than 90 other crops in our state and elsewhere in the nation.”
The Almond Board and California’s more than 6,800 almond growers maintain a long-term commitment to ensuring that almond orchards are safe, healthy places for honey bees.
“While good soil, climate, and other factors are crucial, without honey bees to pollinate our trees each spring, there would be no almonds,” said Curtis. “And without almond blossoms, the bees would lose their first source of natural pollen each year. It’s a win-win relationship.”
The Almond Board’s “Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds,” released in 2014, provide a standardized tool kit with simple, practical and research-based steps farmers and others involved in almond pollination can take to protect and promote honey bee health.
Eric Mussen, apiculturist emeritus at UC Cooperative Extension, said that the BMPs show that ABC is “responding strongly on honey bee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom.” He went on to say that the BMPs “go far beyond the almond orchard, providing important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honey bee health."
Since their release, the BMPs have been shared at over 70 industry meetings, distributing more than 7,000 copies to almond farmers and beekeepers alike. The strong, favorable response to the BMPs marks another milestone in the effort to protect honey bee health and preserve the mutually beneficial relationship between honey bees and almonds.
The California almond community takes its responsibility as a leader in the honey bee health conversation very seriously, and through the Almond Board has invested more in this issue than any other crop or commodity group1. In total, the Almond Board has funded over 100 independent research projects that include study of the time bees spend pollinating almonds as well as research that supports hive health throughout the year. Topics of interest for bees and almonds include the impact of orchard pest control materials on bees and the viability of supplemental food sources like blooming plants for when no other natural bee food is available. To support hive health and beekeepers year round, Almond Board-funded research continues to investigate the varroa mite and other pests that affect honey bees; bee stock improvements and disease management; honey bee nutrition and in-field technical assistance for beekeepers addressing hive health and management.
This year alone, ABC has invested $2.5 million in next-generation farming research that includes nine honey bee health projects in key areas. This research continues to fuel the next round of innovation to ensure the California almond community and its essential partner, the honey bee, can continue to grow healthy, nutritious food.
To learn more about ABC’s Honey Bee BMPs, visit Almonds.com/BeeBMPs. For additional information about the pollination partnership between honey bees and almonds, as well as the California almond community’s commitment to honey bee health, please see the new infographic “The Buzz on Bees + Almonds.”
1Gene Brandi, Vice President, American Beekeeping Federation.