What comes to mind when you think of bees? For most of us, it’s keeping a wary eye on them as they circle our picnic or the painful memory of a childhood sting. But not for almond growers. An almond grower looks at a bee and sees an indispensable business partner.
Unlike some plants, almond trees are not self-pollinating, so they need a little help. That’s why every spring, honeybees are brought in to pollinate almond blossoms up and down the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, setting in motion a process that will eventually result in a summer harvest that produces 80 percent of the world’s almond supply.1 And it’s not just the growers who benefit. For beekeepers, almond orchards represent not only a source of income, but often the first natural food for their colonies each spring. Just like almonds are a nutritious snack for us, almond pollen is very nutritious for honeybees, so hives usually do well during almond pollination season and leave stronger than they came in.2
Throughout the rest of the spring, summer, and fall, as the bees pollinate more than 90 crops, hives build on that momentum and continue to gain strength. However, according to the USDA, a variety of factors – including the Varroa mite (a serious pest to honeybees), a decrease in natural pollen sources, lack of genetic diversity in bee stock, and incorrect application of insecticides – has led to a decline in honeybee health over the winter .So, while the number of hives in the U.S. has remained relatively stable, honey bee losses during winter months are a cause for concern. Those losses threaten the livelihood of beekeepers and put at risk not just almonds, but the more than 90 other crops that require pollination each year.
That’s why the almond industry has taken extraordinary steps to be good partners to beekeepers in promoting bee health. Since 1995, the Almond Board has invested over $1.6 million in industry-funded bee health research – more money than any other U.S. crop – to ensure almond orchards remain a place for honey bees to thrive.
This research has led to several breakthroughs towards improving bee health.3 For example, our research led to improving honeybee genetic stock, which has helped control the threat of the Varroa mite. And because bees depend on variety in their diet for optimum health, the Almond Board helped support 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.
Our research also informs Best Management Practices, which we communicate to growers on an ongoing basis, ranging from preventing the spread of pests that prey on honey bees to ensuring that pest and disease treatment doesn’t put at risk the safety of bees.
Beyond the research, we know that two heads are always better than one and that protecting bee health will require all of us working together. We’ve partnered with bee health organizations like Project Apis m. and the Pollinator Partnership. Even more important than those formal partnerships though, are the personal connections that exist between a grower and his or her beekeeper – relationships that often go back years or even generations.
We’ll continue to build on those relationships, invest in research, and undertake every effort to keep almond orchards a place for honey bees to thrive, because we can’t afford not to. In the end, it is impossible to overstate the importance of bees to our industry – and to a safe and stable food supply for our families and our communities.
For more information about the mutually beneficial relationship between almonds and bees, check out this infographic.
1. Almonds.com, “2013 Almond Almanac” p. 12 http://www.almonds.com/sites/default/files/content/attachments/2013_almanac.pdf
2. Ferris Jabr, “The Mind-Boggling Math of Migratory Beekeeping,” Scientific American , August 20 2013 – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/migratory-beekeeping-mind-boggling-math/
3. Almonds.com, “Bee Active” http://www.almonds.com/consumers/about-almonds/bees; The Keystone Center, “Honey Bee health Coalition” https://www.keystone.org/policy-initiatives-center-for-science-a-public-policy/environment/bee-health.html