Loss of Forage Puts Strain on Beehive Supplies

Shifting crop patterns in the Midwest are challenging beekeepers’ ability to provide a healthy year-round foraging diet for managed honey bees to pollinate California’s 750,000 acres of almonds.

Particularly in the upper Midwest, where some 40% of the managed bees in California end up over the summer, a loss of funding to USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program and an increase in corn prices are forcing a shift away from open space to planted corn. This has had a large impact on the dietary health of bees, said Dr. Ned Euliss with the U.S. Geological Survey in North Dakota, who spoke at The Almond Conference in December. Because 85% of the bees in North Dakota wind up pollinating almonds and other crops in California, the planting decisions of growers in the Midwest have a significant impact on growers in California who rely on managed bees to pollinate their crops.

“When we alter the land, we have to consider its effects on bees,” Euliss said.

Beekeepers are traveling farther to provide a year-round, poly-floral diet for their hives, and supplementing the bees’ natural diet with nutrient patties or sugar syrup during the winter. The result is added costs that are being passed along to growers.

The average rental fee for honey bee hives has risen in recent years as producers have coped with these and other issues related to honey bee health, said Chris Heintz, Almond Board Bee Task Force liaison. In 2006, the average price per hive was $138. Last year, the average price was $152.