A MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL RELATIONSHIP
It's hard to imagine that a creature as tiny as a honey bee could have such a huge impact on our lives, but without bees and other pollinators like them, almonds – along with many of our other favorite foods – simply wouldn't exist.
Unlike some plants, almond trees are not self-pollinating, so they need some extra help to fertilize flowers and start the process of growing nuts. Honey bees provide the essential link from one blossom to another.
Between February and March each year, almond tree buds burst into beautiful light pink and white blooms in preparation for pollination. Almond trees require cross-pollination between different varieties, so orchards are planted with multiple almond tree types in alternating rows. Honey bees and other pollinators are necessary to move pollen between these trees (and within flowers) in order to pollinate almond blossoms, which, when fertilized, become the almond kernels that we all love to eat. That’s why every spring, honey bees are brought in from around the state and the country to pollinate almond blossoms up and down California’s Central Valley, setting in motion a process that will eventually result in a late summer harvest that produces over 80 percent of the world’s almond supply.1
It’s not just the almonds that benefit. For bees, almonds are often the first natural source of food each spring. Just like almonds are a nutritious snack for us, almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees. Hives usually do well during almond pollination season and routinely leave stronger than they arrived. Beekeepers then split many of the hives to grow their apiaries.4
In fact, the link between bees and almonds is so important that the relationships between almond growers and their beekeepers often go back years or even generations.
Committed to Health
Learn about the causes of bee health decline - PDFAfter almond pollination in the early spring, commercial bees travel the country, pollinating more than 90 crops, and their hives continue to build momentum and gain strength. But a variety of factors have led to a widely documented and concerning decline in honey bee health. Key factors include the Varroa mite (a serious pest that attacks bees in beehives and transmits diseases), other pests and diseases, a decrease in natural pollen sources, lack of genetic diversity in bee stock, and pesticide exposure.5
Overall, the number of honey bee hives in the U.S. has remained relatively stable over the past two decates and 2014 marked a 20-year high.6 However, summer and over wintering hive losses are of concern because they make it harder for beekeepers to maintain their hives, putting at risk many of the foods we count on for a stable, nutritious food supply.4
That’s why the Almond Board of California has taken extraordinary steps to be good partners to beekeepers in promoting bee health. We have funded pollination research for nearly four decades and, since making honey bee health a focus in 1995, have invested more than $1.2 million in industry-funded reseach, more than any other crop or commodity group.7 We’ve focused on several different research areas, including:
- Bee nutrition
- Genetic stock improvement
- Pest and disease management
- Understanding the impact of pesticides and how to minimize exposure to them
- Technical assistance to beekeepers through Tech Transfer Teams
Working with Project Apis m. and others, we also encourage almond growers to provide blooming plants or bee pastures adjacent to almond acreage as additional food sources for honey bees prior to and after almond bloom.
Progress through Research
Almond Board research has led to several breakthroughs towards improving bee health. For example, we have been able to help improve honey bee genetic stock to better manage Varroa mite. And because bees depend on variety in their diet for optimum health, we have helped support the development of an improved nutritional supplement that beekeepers use to ensure that bees get the range of nutrients they need in the late summer and fall when natural sources of pollen are at low levels.
Almond industry-funded research, along with that of other universities, government agencies, and non-profits also helps inform our Best Management Practices for everyone involved in the pollination process, with recommendations ranging from making the orchard a safe and welcoming place for honey bees to how treat for pest and disease without harming bees.
As a result of our commitment to and study of these issues, the Almond Board has become a leader in the honey bee health conversation. We routinely engage with government and private organizations, the research community, beekeeping associations, our growers, and others involved in pollination in an effort to share information, further our collective knowledge, and promote action to strengthen bee health.
1. Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Tree Nut: World Market and Trade. Oct. 2015.
2. Klein, 2007.
4. Ferris Jabr, “The Mind-Boggling Math of Migratory Beekeeping,” Scientific American , August 20 2013 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/migratory-beekeeping-mind-bogg...
5. Honey Bee Health Coalition, 2014
6. USDA-NASS Honey Production Report. 1986-2014.
7. Gene Brandi, Vice President, American Beekeeping Federation.