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Hive Theft Peaked in 2023

By Deputy Rowdy J. Freeman

Commercial Beekeeper, CSBA Member, Butte County Sheriff's Office, and President of the California Rural Crime Prevention Task Force


California is home to the largest pollination event in the world - almonds. Like one-third of all the food we eat, almonds are dependent on honey bees for pollination, and honey bees must be used to achieve maximum yields.

Almonds from California are shipped all over the world for everyone to enjoy. California is home to approximately 840,000 native honey bee colonies. However, it takes approximately 2.4 million hives to complete the monumental task of meeting California’s pollination needs. This means over 1.5 million hives are trucked into California from all over the United States, coming as far away as Florida.

Almonds are dependent on honey bees, and commercial honey bees are dependent on almonds. Many beekeepers rely on the income from almond pollination to sustain their commercial beekeeping operations. The average cost to rent beehives for almond pollination ranges from $200-$225 each. There is a fair amount to be made on almond pollination. Most commercial beekeepers depend on this income to help pay to keep their honey bees healthy and fed throughout the year.

Money is the root of all evil and criminals are always looking for a way to make a quick buck. The commercial beekeeping industry has fallen victim to this and has seen an 86 percent increase in hive theft between 2013 and 2024. Most of this is associated with almond pollination.

Over this time frame, nearly 10,000 honeybee hives have been stolen with an estimated value of $3.5 million. The estimated financial losses to the commercial beekeeping industry are 60% greater bringing the total loss for beekeepers to $5.6 million.

2023 saw the highest number of hive thefts in a single year to date with some 2,300 hives reported as stolen. As the 2024 almond pollination event begins, so do the thefts. Two separate thefts of 120 hives each, two Hummerbee forklifts, and a trailer have already been stolen by thieves in the central valley in Fresno County. These incidents and the number of hives stolen are expected to increase as they normally do.

Honeybees have been declared the most important living beings on earth, and most people alive today recognize their vital importance to the survival of all life.

Many agencies and organizations throughout California have been diligently working together to fight the issues surrounding hive thefts. A special California Rural Crime Prevention Task Force has been appointed to investigate and work to prevent beehive theft. This effort is supported by the California State Beekeepers Association, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the State Apiary Board, the California Farm Bureau, local county Agriculture Departments, local Sheriff's Offices, and the Almond Board of California.

For more information on how you can help prevent hive theft, please see this Guide to Preventing Hive Theft. Download it and share with other beekeepers as well as farmers and neighbors in areas where you place your hives.

We’re all in this together when it comes to fighting this crime that drastically affects the commercial beekeeping and almond industries.

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