That's the soothing sound of honey bees gathering food for their colony--and in the process, pollinating almonds.
The buzz is to bees what a purr is to a cat.
On the UC Davis campus, almonds are still blooming--on Bee Biology Road and in the UC Davis Arboretum, among other sites.
But the almond pollination season that began around Valentine's Day in California is almost over. By mid-March, it's fini.
The solo almond tree that bloomed in early January in the Benicia State Recreation Area is already leafed out. It's the perfect hot spot: sun-warmed asphalt, southern exposure and no neighbors to shade it.
Meanwhile, the Almond Board of California (ABC) newsroom is buzzing, too.
"Through research we know that almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees," said Bob Curtis, director of agricultural affairs at ABC said in a news release. "Research also shows that bee hives increase in strength during the time they spend pollinating almonds. This allows many beekeepers to then split their hives and grow their apiaries, giving the beekeepers and their bees a good foundation for the upcoming year. After their stay in the almond orchards, bees move on to pollinate more than 90 other crops in our state and elsewhere in the nation."
California now has 1 million acres of almonds, and each acre requires two bee hives for pollination. And how many almond growers are there in the state? More than 6,000, according to ABC.
"While good soil, climate, and other factors are crucial, without honey bees to pollinate our trees each spring, there would be no almonds," said Curtis in the news release. "And without almond blossoms, the bees would lose their first source of natural pollen each year. It's a win-win relationship."
Back in 2014, almond growers, beekeepers, bee breeders and scientists got together and hammered out the "Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds."
Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, participated in that major endeavor.
In the news release, Mussen said that the almond industry is "responding strongly on honey bee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom. He said that the BMPs "go far beyond the almond orchard, providing important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honey bee health."
"Since their release, the BMPs have been shared at over 70 industry meetings with more than 7,000 copies distributed to almond farmers and beekeepers alike," according to the ABC news release. "The strong, favorable response to the BMPs marks another milestone in the effort to protect honey bee health and preserve the mutually beneficial relationship between honey bees and almonds."
Without bees, no almonds, so the relationship between the almond growers and the beekeepers must continue to be nurtured, cultivated and strengthened.
Meanwhile, listen to the bees buzz, a sure sign of winter's demise and spring's promise.
Officials organizing the 42nd annual Almond Conference are gearing up for their three-day event, which takes place Tuesday, Dec. 9 through Thursday, Dec. 11 in the Sacramento Convention Center.
In a message to the attendees, Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California (ABC), says the industry is facing unprecedented challenges, as California's severe drought continues.
The agenda encompasses a variety of topics, including
- "State of the Industry"
- "Almond Quality: Everything You Want to Know About Retaining Almond Crunch and Flavor"
- "Pest Management Update and Sampling: Insects and Weeds"
- "Exporter Overview: Regulations Keep on Coming"
- "Digital and Traditional Media Outreach Techniques"
- "Pollination Update"
- "Research Grant Topics and Speakers"
Zalom and Williams will discuss their ABC-funded research while Mussen will address honey bee issues. In addition, Mussen will be honored at the Dec. 10 noon luncheon for his 38 years of service to the almond/bee industries. He retired in June.
Mussen will be among the four speakers at the Pollination Update on Thursday morning, Dec. 11. Others are Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland; Gabriele Ludwig, ABC; Christi Heintz of Project Apis m; and Gordon Wardell of Paramount Farming. Bob Curtis of ABC will moderate.
They will expand on this text (from the agenda): "Bees, along with other pollinators, have consistently been in the media, particularly in the past two years. Almonds, as the largest user of pollination services, are often mentioned as possibly impacted by compromised honey bee health. Are almond growers doing everything possible to ensure that almonds are a good and safe place for honey bees? This session will provide an overview of the research and issues affecting honey bee health, how ABC has and continues to be engaged in this issue and an introduction to the updated best management practices for honey bees in California almonds."
Researchers will discuss their ongoing projects:
- "Insect and Mite Research," Frank Zalom, UC Davis
- "Pheromone and Host Plant Volatiles for Navel Orangeworm Monitoring," Ring Cardé, UC Riverside
- "Host Plant Volatile Blend to Monitor Navel Orangeworm Populations," John Beck, USDA-ARS, Albany, CA
- "Integrated Pest Management Studies," Kris Tollerup, UC Cooperative Extension IPM advisor
- "Leaffooted and Stink Bugs in Almond," Andrea Joyce, UC Merced
- "Honey Bee Nutrition: ProteinSupplements vs. Natural Forage," Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, USDA-ARS, Tucson, Ariz.
- "Assessing the Value of Supplemental Forage During Almond Pollination, Ramesh Sagili, Oregon State University
- "Forage and Integrated Almond Pollination," Neal Williams, UC Davis
- "Quantifying Varroa Resistance to Miticides," Dennis vanEngelsdorp, University of Maryland
- "New Chemistries for Varroa Mite," Troy Anderson, Virginia Tech
See agenda (download PDF)
That's a short-cut for "Bee Best Management Practices."
The Almond Board of California today unveiled its long-awaited "Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds."
It's an important document because it is aimed at protecting the honey bees that pollinate California's 900,000 acres of almonds. Last spring some 80,000 colonies died because pesticides reached them before the beekeepers did, that is, before the beekeepers could remove them from the orchards after pollination season. It amounted to a lack of communication.
The editors spelled out the importance of the document at the onset:
"Honey bees are essential for successful pollination of almonds and the long-term health of the California Almond industry. Why should almond growers — and all parties involved in almond pollination — care about healthy, strong bees? First, bees are a valuable resource and almond production input, and the time they spend in almonds impacts hive health throughout the year, from the time they leave almond orchards until they return the next season. Second, although almonds are only one of more than 90 foods that rely on pollination by bees, because of its size and number of bees needed, the California Almond industry is increasingly being watched by the public on matters related to the health and stability of honey bee populations. Of particular concern at this time is how to manage the use of pest control materials in ways that minimize their possible impact on honey bees. It is important that growers of all crops implement best management practices to support bee health, and for those whose crops rely on honey bee pollination, to consider honey bee health not only during the pollination season, but during the entire year."
The Bee BMP zeroed in on four key precautions:
1. Maintain clear communication among all parties involved, particularly on the specifics of pesticide application.
2. If it is necessary to spray the orchard, for instance with fungicides, do so in the late afternoon or evening.
3. Until more is known, avoid tank-mixing products during bloom.
4. Avoid applying insecticides during bloom until more is known about the effects on honey bees, particularly to young, developing bees in the hive. Fortunately, there are several insecticide application timing options other than bloom time treatments.
The document advocates that a clear chain of communication be established among all parties involved in pollination and pest management during almond bloom. This should definitely help prevent bee losses before, during and after the pollination season.
Three officials from the Almond Board of California did an excellent job editing the document and drawing input from the industries:
- Bob Curtis, associate director, Agricultural Affairs
- Gabriele Ludwig, associate director, Environmental Affairs
- Danielle Veenstra, specialist, Agricultural and Environmental Affairs
They received input from 10 contributing editors and reviewers:
- Gene Brandi, Gene Brandi Apiaries
- Jackie Park-Burris, Jackie Park-Burris Queens
- Orin Johnson, Johnson Apiaries
- Gordon Wardell, director, Pollination Operations, Paramount Farming Company
- George Farnsworth, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
- Karen Francone, California Department of Pesticide Regulation
- Eric Mussen, Extension Apiculturist retired, UC Davis
- Thomas Steeger, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. EPA
- CropLife America
- Christi Heintz, Project Apis m.
You can download the document on the Almond Board of California website. (Look under "growers" at the top of the home page.)
The Almond Board of California will unveil its Honey Bee Best Management Practices tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 16) in an ongoing effort to promote and protect bee health.
The board will do so by holding a press conference at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time with questions directed at Richard Waycott, CEO, Almond Board of California; Bob Curtis, associate director of Agricultural Affairs, Almond Board of California and Extension apiculturist (retired) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
It promises to be a comprehensive set of Best Management Practices or BMPs.
Remember last spring when beekeepers in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards reported losing 80,000 colonies? Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site.
"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" Mussen asked. "When pollination no longer is happening. That does not mean that the bees should remain in place until the last petal falls from the last blossom."
Communication is key to a good BMP. The Almond Board recently published three informational pieces, “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds,” "Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds,” and “Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds” (in English and Spanish).
The topics include:
- Preparing for arrival
- Assessing hive strength and quality
- Protecting honey bees at bloom
- Honey bees and insecticides
- Honey bees and fungicides
- Using integrated pest management (IPM) strategies to minimize agricultural sprays
- Honey bees and self-compatible almond varieties
- Best management practices for pest control during almond bloom
- Removing honey bees from the orchard
- Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses
- What to expect in an investigation
The Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), headed by Dennis van Engelsdorp, produced three short videos as the result of a 2012-2013 beekeeping survey. Project Apis m (PAm) published some of the information online about varroa mites, nosema, honey bee nutrition and the like.
It's important for almond growers and beekeepers to keep the lines of communication open. Bees make a "bee line" toward the almond blossoms, but the growers and the beekeepers don't always make a timely "bee line" toward one another to resolve issues that surface.
It's the Big 4-0 for the Almond Board of California's annual almond industry conference this week.
Some 1000 convention-goers are gathering in the Sacramento Convention Center. The 40th annual conference opened Tuesday, Dec. 11 and runs through Thursday, Dec. 13.
A contingent from the Department of Entomology at the University of California, Davis, is there--including some from chemical ecologist Walter Leal's lab and some from the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Many came to hear U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
After all, almonds are California's biggest export. With some 750,000 acres of almonds in production in the state, the National Agricultural Statistics Service is forecasting a record-breaking 2.10 billion meat pounds this year, valued at approximately $3 billion. Eighty-percent of the global supply of almonds is grown in California, and about 70 percent of California’s crop is marketed overseas.
Over at the Laidlaw facility, you can't help but notice the sign that graces the entrance. The work of self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick of Davis, it shows a skep, honey bees, DNA strands, and almond blossoms.
Then if you walk a few steps east of the facility to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, you'll run into the gigantic worker bee sculpture, also the work of Donna Billick. It's a six-foot-long morphologically correct worker bee, right down to the wax glands.
If it appears to be on a pedestal, that's the way it should be. Honey bees, those tiny agricultural workers, pollinate one-third of the food we eat.
As for the almonds, the pollination season begins around Valentine's Day. The orchards will be buzzing. It takes two hives per acre to pollinate California's almond crop.