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Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: almonds

Trouble in the Almond Orchards

Beekeepers and almond growers are concerned--and rightfully so--about the some 80,000 bee colonies that died this year in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards. In monetary terms, that's a loss of about $180,000. But the loss isn't just financial. It could have long-term effects.

Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site. This is a serious blow to both industries. Growers need the bees to pollinate their almonds. Now some beekeepers are vowing this is it; they'll never to return for another almond pollination season.

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology talks about the issue in his latest edition of from the uc apiaries, published today on his website.

"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" he asks. "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."

"Why might beekeepers desire to move their hives out of the orchards 'early?' Once the almonds no longer provide nectar and pollen for the bees, the bees find replacement sources of food. Unfortunately, those sources may be contaminated with pesticides that almond growers would never use when the bees are present. Some common pests that surge right near the end of almond bloom include Egyptian alfalfa weevil larvae and aphids in alfalfa, and grape cutworms in vineyards. Delayed dormant sprays sometimes are being applied in other deciduous fruit orchards, even when the trees are in bloom. Often blooming weeds in the crops are attracting honey bees. If the year is really dry, the bees may be attracted to sugary secretions of aphids and other sucking bugs."

Mussen says it's "not difficult to see that accidental bee poisonings often happen. Despite our California regulations requiring beekeepers to be notified of applications of bee-toxic chemicals within a mile of the apiaries, bees fly up to four miles from their hives to find food and water. That is an area of 50 square miles in which they may find clean or contaminated food sources. Thus, growers whose fields are 'nowhere near' any known apiary locations may accidentally kill many bees with chemical applications."

"It seems," Mussen says, "that a combination of exposures of colonies to truly bee-toxic insecticides, followed by delayed effects of exposure to fungicide/IGR mixes during bloom, really set the bees way behind. The problem proved so severe that a number of beekeepers stated that they were never returning to California for almond pollination. That is not a good thing, since we really don't have too many colonies coming to almonds as it is."

In his newsletter, Mussen goes into depth about when and how bees pollinate the almonds and what could be causing the problem and how it can be resolved.

His take-home message? "Our honey bees cannot continue to be exposed to as many toxic agricultural products as they are, or we will not have enough bees to fill the pollination demand for our nuts, fruits, vegetable, forage and seed crops."

That's serious business.

A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 9:21 PM

Tough Time for Bees

Eric Mussen introduces visitors to bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
In February--the afternoon of Feb. 8 to be exact--Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology told us that California almond growers may not have enough honey bees to pollinate this year’s crop of 800,000 acres. He attributed the difficulty to winter losses and less populous hives. 

He sounded the alarm.

“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” said Mussen in a news release we posted Feb. 8 on the Department of Entomology website.  “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”

Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.

He said 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.

“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” Mussen said, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both.  So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”

The winter of 2012-2013, in general, was bad for bees.  In fact, it's never been good since the winter of 2006 with the onset of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.

Bee scientists think CCD is caused by a multitude of factors, includes, pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. On the average, beekeepers report they're losing one-third of their bees a year.

“We don’t know how many more bees will be lost over the winter,” Mussen told us on Feb. 8. “We consider the winter ending when the weather warms up and the pollen is being brought into the hives.”

 “Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter. We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”

Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976, knows honey bees. He is a honey bee guru, a global expert on bees. "Have a question about bees? Ask Eric Mussen." This month, especially, he is in great demand as a news source.

The New York Times quoted Mussen in its March 28th article, "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms."

Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.

"Where do you start?" Dr. Mussen said. "When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal leel how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?"

Experts say nobody knows.

Meanwhile, Mussen spent much of the day today granting news media interviews. On Tuesday, April 2, it will be for Dan Rather Reports: Buzzkill. 

It was not so long ago that honey bees drew little attention, despite the fact that they pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.  A three-letter acronym, CCD, changed all that. 

Rich Schubert, a beekeeper in the Winters/Vacaville area, said it best during a question-and-answer session at Mussen's UC Davis Distinguished Seminar on Oct. 9, 2007.

If 5600 dead cows were found in a pasture, instead of 5600 dead bees, people would start paying attention, Schubert told the crowd.

So true. And now they are.

Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Symphony in the Almonds

Symphony in the almond blossoms...

There's a wild almond tree planted in a field off Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, that's incredibly beautiful.

Honey bees from the nearby apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility reunite on the blossoms, each bee seemingly vying for the best pollen to take back to her hive.

The tree is not quite in full bloom, but don't tell that to the bees. We captured a few images of them in flight, a moving symphony performance in the almonds.

Honey bee heading toward almonds blossoms on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading toward almonds blossoms on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading toward almonds blossoms on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee, packing pollen, in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee, packing pollen, in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee, packing pollen, in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A blur of bee wings.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A blur of bee wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A blur of bee wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, February 22, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Turning Over a New Leaf (Footed Bug)

When you first see the leaffooted bug, you know immediately how it got its name.

The appendages on its feet look like leaves!

This morning we saw one in our catmint (Nepeta) patch. It crawled beneath the tiny leaves, sharing space with honey bees, European wool carder bees, butterflies and assorted spiders.

Tonight scores of them stormed our pomegranate tree.  In fact, they made the immature  fruit their kitchen, living room and bedroom. 

Although the leaffooted bug (Leptoglossus clypealis) is a pest of pistachios and almonds,  we've never seen it on our pomegranate tree until today. Our tree, planted in 1927--back when Herbert Hoover was the U.S. president--has few pests. One year white flies attacked it mercilessly. Tonight leaffooted bugs claimed squatters' rights.

The adult bug is about an inch long with a white or yellow zigzag across its back. Shades of Zorro! Its most distinctive feature, however, are the leaflike appendages on its feet.

Back in 2009, integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, co-authored UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines on the leaffooted bug as it pertains to almonds. Zalom and his colleagues called attention to their needlelike mouthparts. The adults feed on young nuts "before the shell hardens." And after the nut is developed,  "leaffooted bug feeding can still cause black spots on the kernel or wrinkled, misshapen nutmeats."

As for our pomegranate tree, we're not sure how well these leaffooted bugs can probe the tough, leathery fruit. 

We open the pomegranates with a serrated knife...

Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 11:17 PM

Everything Is Connected; Even the Bees

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."--John  Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

Ecologist Louie Yang of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, tags that quote at the end of each email.

So true.

On that note, did you catch the Feb. 14th National Public Radio piece on "Why California Almonds Need North Dakota Flowers (And a Few Million Bees)?"

"Here's the web of connections: a threat to California's booming almond business; hard times for honey bees in North Dakota; and high corn prices," Dan Charles said.

The gist of it:
Every year, bees from 1.6 million of the nation's hives are trucked into California to pollinate the 750,000 acres of almonds.  Since the almond pollination season is brief--a few weeks in mid-February--the bees need someplace to thrive after the bloom ends. Many  beekeepers head to North Dakota's federally funded government program, the Conservation Reserve Program, where flowers bloom all summer long. Basically, Uncle Sam leases land from the farmers to help the bees thrive.

Now, however, North Dakota farmers are finding it more profitable to grow corn than put their land in the Conservation Reserve Program.

"The amount of North Dakota land in the Conservation Reserve, meanwhile, has declined by a third over the past five years," said Charles. "This year, it's expected to take another plunge, perhaps down to half what it was its peak."

So, bottom line, California almonds--and the nation's bees--are tied to the North Dakota's Conservation Reserve Program.

As Charles correctly pointed out: "This is not just a beekeeper's problem anymore. ...the prosperity of almond growers...depends on what happens to bees on the lonely northern Plains."

To get a really good grasp of the situation, read Hannah Nordhaus' excellent book, "The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America." 

NPR interviewed some of the very migratory beekeepers that Nordhaus interviewed. 

Honey bee heading for an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging in almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging in almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging in almond blossoms. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 8:12 PM
Tags: almonds (13), honey bees (9), Louie Yang (1), NPR (1), The Beekeeper's Lament (1)

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