Hear that buzz? California almond pollination season is approaching.
The season usually begins around Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, but we usually see the first-of-the-year almond blooms in mid-January in a hot spot near the Benicia marina.
That's where we saw them on Jan. 23, but they've bloomed in that vicinity as early as Jan. 1.
Almonds are big business in California, a burgeoning big business.
The most report of the California Field Office of the USDA's Agricultural Statistics Service, released April 23, 2020, indicates:
- California's 2019 almond acreage is estimated at 1,530,000 acres, up 10 percent from the 2018 acreage of 1,390,000.
- Of the total acreage for 2019, 1,180,000 acres were bearing and 350,000 acres were non-bearing. Preliminary bearing acreage for 2020 was estimated at 1,260,000 acres.
- Nonpareil continued to be the leading variety, followed by Monterey, Butte, Carmel, and Padre.
- Kern, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced and Madera were the leading counties. These five counties had 72 percent of the total bearing acreage.
It takes about two bee colonies per acre to pollinate the California almonds. Since California can't meet that requirement--we don't have enough bees!--the little agricultural workers are trucked here from all over the United States.
According to Nov. 23, 2020 article, "2021 Almond Pollination Outlook and Other Considerations," published in West Coast Nut:
"Idaho, North Dakota and Florida remained the top three states shipping colonies into California. Many honey bee colonies are transferred from the Northern Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest after honey production is finished to be held (often indoors) until almonds bloom in California. So, even though Idaho looks like the top shipping state according to CDFA border shipment data, many of those colonies in reality are coming from elsewhere. The shipment of colonies to storage in the Pacific Northwest is a trend that looks to continue into the future. Many beekeepers have seen lower mortality rates from storing colonies indoors over the winter."
Hear that buzz? It's almost time.
Specifically, her position is with the National Identification Services (NIS) of the Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) program of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or what USDA officials refer to as "APHIS PPQ NIS." The Thysanoptera collection of the Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) is housed with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
“I love my work,” she said, “and I love my favorite insect, thrips.”
Thrips are tiny insects that cause billions worth of damage annually to U.S. agricultural crops. Barely visible to the naked eye, they heavily damage fruits, vegetable and horticultural crops, so much so that they can—and do--pose a biosecurity threat. In 1996, Cuba's Fidel Castro accused the United States of aerially releasing Thrips palmi over potato fields.
“Of the more than 5000 species of thrips known in the world, some are serious pests, and some are beneficial as pollinators and predators,” O'Donnell said. “Some thrips transmit plant diseases, such as the tomato spotted wilt virus and the Impatients necrotic spot viruses.”
“To monitor agricultural crops effectively, it's important to be able to identify them, but it's difficult to do so without understanding thrips taxonomy and identification,” O'Donnell said. “Thrips are so small—one millimeter long or less--that they're like a speck. Inspectors see larvae, eggs and adults on plant material coming in. It's difficult to separate species at the life stage of eggs, larvae and adult males.”
“There were many times I was doubtful that I could continue to meet the demands of my chosen field,” O'Donnell said, crediting her family, friends and UC Davis scientists with offering her the support she needed to complete her education.
O'Donnell holds three degrees from UC Davis: a bachelor's in agricultural systems and the environment (1997), a master's degree in plant protection and pest management (2000) and a doctorate in entomology (2007).
After receiving her doctorate, she joined the USDA as “the co-lateral Thysanoptera specialist, USDA-APHIS-PPQ,” west of the Mississippi. That is, she was a key thrips specialist for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Plant Protection and Quarantine Program. Her work involved detecting, identifying and intercepting thrips and other pests arriving at U.S. ports from around the world.
Her major professor Diane Ullman, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, describes her as "a tremendously talented biologist and she holds a real fascination for thrips, their classification, host relationships and biology."
"She will do a fantastic job in this position, which will be important to the global community studying thrips and trying to develop management strategies," Ullman told us.
Read more about Cheryle O'Donnell here. She offers good advice to prospective graduate students in encouraging them to follow their dreams: "Focus on your goals, never deviate from those goals, and never allow obstacles to get in the way,” she advises. "It is a difficult and challenging path you have chosen but it will be worth all the hard work. The UC Davis community, the ‘village' which supports you, is an experience you will never forget and the payoff will be great throughout your life.”
Meanwhile, O'Donnell is anticipating two mid-May thrips conferences at the Asilomar Conference Center, Pacific Grove. One of the key organizers is Professor Ullman. See more information.
Good news for the honey bees!
And none too soon.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today (Oct. 29) in a press release that "more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to help farmers and ranchers in the Midwest improve the health of honey bees, which play an important role in crop production."
“The future of America's food supply depends on honey bees, and this effort is one way USDA is helping improve the health of honey bee populations,” Vilsack said in the USDA release. “Significant progress has been made in understanding the factors that are associated with Colony Collapse Disorder and the overall health of honey bees, and this funding will allow us to work with farmers and ranchers to apply that knowledge over a broader area.”
The declining honey bee population is besieged with health issues, exacerbated by pests, parasites, pesticides, diseases, stress and malnutrition Nationally, however, honey bees pollinate an estimated $15 billion worth of crops, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables. If you enjoy such produce as almonds, apples, cherries, cucumbers, and peaches, thank a bee for its pollination services.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is focusing the effort on five Midwestern states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Why the Midwest? "From June to September, the Midwest is home to more than 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter."
The announcement renews and expands what USDA calls "a successful $3 million pilot investment that was announced earlier this year and continues to have high levels of interest." It's all part of the June 2014 Presidential Memorandum – Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators, which directs USDA to expand the acreage and forage value in its conservation programs.
Funding will be provided to producers through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Applications are due Friday, Nov. 21.
This means that the farmers and ranchers will receive support and guidance to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. This will include appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management. In addition to providing good forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, the actions taken are expected to reduce erosion, increase soil health and inhibit invasive species.
California also will benefit. "This year, several NRCS state offices are setting aside additional funds for similar efforts, including California – where more than half of all managed honey bees in the U.S. help pollinate almond groves and other agricultural lands – as well as Ohio and Florida," according to the release.
A nice push for the pollinators!