Bees: The hardest workers in the Almond Business

Even California’s almond growers will admit that for four months of the year the hardest workers in their orchards are not paid by the hour.

From December to March, when almond trees flower, turning the Central Valley into a pinkish white wonderland, growers truck in millions of bees to pollinate the blossoms.

If it were not for the millions of bees working 9 to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, there would be no almond industry.

California grows 82% of the world’s almonds – a figure that continues to grow as countries such as China, India and Turkey discover the great taste of the California almond. Almost 70% of the crop is exported, but that still leaves enough to supply 99% of the United States’ needs.

It takes about 1.6 million beehives to pollinate the state’s 800,000 acres of trees, and at $400 per acre, it’s a major cost for most growers. According to the American Beekeeping Federation, it can take up to 60% of the nation’s beehives to produce the 1.8 million pounds of almonds that the state produces each year.

The demand is so heavy that hive theft has now become a major problem. In 2016 over 1700 hives were stolen leading some farmers to post 24-hour patrols in their orchards.

Almonds are the state’s largest cash crop, easily outpacing wine grape production.

hardest workers in the Almond Business

Until recently, relying on bees to get the job done was the farmer’s only option. When honey-bee die off began in the 1990’s and exploded in 2007-2008, it cut into the number of hives available, and farmers began looking for alternatives.

No one is really sure what’s killing the bees. Many experts say it’s a virus while others claim it may the result of pesticide poisoning. Some studies have suggested that it may be chemicals added to the pesticides to make them more effective, that may be the problem.

Several solutions have been suggested. One is organic almonds which have not be sprayed with pesticides. At American Export House we can supply all your organic almond needs, leaving our bees healthy and happy.

Another longer term solution involves changing the variety of almond that a farmer grows. ‘Independence’ is a new breed of almond that does not require bees to spread pollen between blossoms.

The flowers contain both male and female reproductive organs so a gentle breeze blowing through the orchard can allow the blossoms to self-pollinate. Most farmers who have grown Independence still rent beehives, but they can usually cut the number of hives needed in half.

The yield may be slightly less, but farmers say the entire crop is usually ready for harvest simultaneously, further cutting costs.

Independence is still a relatively new breed and it takes 4-5 years of growth before a new tree is ready for harvest. Plus, most retailers may not have any idea what variety of almond they are selling.

For now, if you want to keep bees healthy and productive, you should try organic almonds from American Export House.

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