It's a gathering of folks from both the almond and bee industries and beyond. See the agenda overview.
The late UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen (1944-2022), based in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, was heavily involved in honey bee health issues in the almond industry even after he retired as emeritus in 2014. He shared his expertise with the almond industry, spoke at their conferences and always looked forward to almond pollination season, which usually begins around Feb. 14.
ABC is a self-described "leader in the honey bee health conversation, partnering with more than 20 organizations to support bee health including universities, government agencies, nonprofits and beekeeping groups." That includes the University of California, Davis.
It's not just bees--or the lack of bees--that ABC worries about. Pests such as leaffooted bugs and brown marmorated stink bugs draw their ire. UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jhalendra Rijal and two colleagues, writing in a 2021 edition of the Journal of Integrated Pest Management, wrote about the "Biology, Ecology and Management of Hemipteran Pests in Almond Orchards in the United States."
Scores of university scientists work with ABC on various pests, including UC Davis distinguished professor and researcher Frank Zalom of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. He's an Honorary Member of the Entomological Association of America, (the highest ESA honor), and a past president of the 7000-member organization.
Regarding honey bees, ABC engages with universities, government agencies, nonprofits, and others "to ensure that honey bees are happy, healthy, and safe while they visit almond orchards," according to its website. The organization posted this in 2018: "Since honey bee health was made a strategic research priority of Almond Board of California (ABC) in 1995, the California Almond community has committed $2.6 million through 113 research projects to address the five major factors impacting honey bee health--varroa mites, pest and disease management, genetic diversity, pesticide exposure, and access to forage and nutrition. The California Almond community has funded more honey bee health research than any other crop group, and in 2017, six new bee research studies were funded, with a commitment of nearly $300,000 to improving honey bee health."
ABC established Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds to "provide key recommendations to everyone involved in the pollination process, from the beekeeper to the almond farmer and everyone in between, to make the orchard a safe and welcoming place for honey bees, while balancing the need to protect the developing crop."
"The Bee BMPs have garnered praise from leading bee health experts such as University of California, Davis Apiculturist Emeritus Dr. Eric Mussen and been held up as an example for other crops to follow."
In 2014, Mussen received a plaque, with an engraved clock, from ABC for 38 years of service. In presenting him with the coveted award, Robert "Bob" Curtis, then associate director of Agricultural Affairs, ABC, said: "Eric, we honor your service as a Cooperative Extension Apicultural Specialist. Your leadership has been invaluable to both the almond and beekeeping communities as the authoritative and trusted source for guidance on research, technical, and practical problem solving and issues facing both industries. Even now in your retirement you have been instrumental in the development of Honey Bee Best Management Practices for Almonds and extending this information to all pollination stakeholders."
During his years as a Extension apiculturist, Mussen served as a university liaison, Scientific Advisory Board member, reviewer of research proposals and a designated speaker (representative).
A Celebration of Life is planned for 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28 in the Putah Creek Lodge, UC Davis campus. The registration has closed, but a live webinar will be produced by UC Davis distinguished professor Walter Leal of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and a former chair of the Department of Entomology. Registration is underway here at https://bit.ly/3czl5Am. It also will be on YouTube.
Family and friends suggest memorial contributions be made to the California State 4-H Beekeeping Program, with a note, "Eric Mussen Memorial Fund." Mary Ciriceillo, director of development for the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, said checks may be made out to the California 4-H Foundation and mailed to:
Of course, you go.
Almond pollination season is a delight to see and record. Almonds rank No. 2 among California's most valued agricultural commodities, right behind dairy products.
Sadly, glamour photographers often trespass on private property to take images of high fashion models in evening gowns and high heels, or to pose newly engaged couples and newlyweds. (One professional photographer even lists "40 poses for spring engagement photos in almond orchards.")
Apparently there's money to be made from the hard work of the farmers.
However, those of us born and raised on a farm appreciate the land, crops and farmers more than we do trespassing glamour photographers looking for a backdrop.
Almond pollination season ought to be about almond pollination.
Latest statistics from the U.S.Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Services, show that "California's 2020 almond acreage at an estimated 1,600,000 acres, 5.3 percent higher than the 2019 acreage of 1,520,000. Of the total acreage for 2020, 1,250,000 acres were bearing, 5.9 percent above 2019, and 350,000 acres were non-bearing, up 2.9 percent from 2019. Preliminary bearing acreage for 2021 is estimated at 1,330,000 acres."
"Fresno, Kern, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties. These five counties accounted for 73% of the total bearing acreage."
Almond pollination season usually starts around Feb. 14 and ends around mid-March. Growers advocate two hives per acre. But since California doesn't have enough bees to pollinate the almonds, beekeepers truck their bees here from all over the United States. The Almond Board of California points out that "two-thirds of the nation's commercial honey bees hives converge in California."
This year almond growers and beekeepers faced frost ("cold snap"), rain, hail and a myriad of hive thefts. (In addition to trespassing photographers.)
Sadly, on our visit to an isolated Esparto almond orchard on Feb. 16, we not only saw the beginning of the almond pollination season, but the beginning of more work for the land owners--a discarded mattress, tossed potato chip bags, crumbled candy wrappers, broken beer bottles and other trash.
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.)