How We Grow

2020 Jan/Feb How We Grow

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1 1 FROM LEADERSHIP Where would we be without the honey bee? Trends from 2005 to today demonstrate that beekeepers are bringing larger, stronger colonies to almond orchards for pollination. And though hive health has improved over the years, growers may be surprised to learn that the timing of this massive delivery is counter to the bees' instinct at that time of year. February is when colonies are typically at their lowest population for the year. If left to their instinctual growth patterns, colonies would be four or five frames of bees at the beginning of February, not the eight-frame average that is now the industry standard. Building the colonies to eight or ten frames of healthy bees, therefore, requires a variety of inputs and immense effort on the beekeeper's part. Those who wish to bring their colonies to California for almond pollination start preparing in the early summer of the previous year. Beekeepers must be strategic about when to increase the colonies and provide medication and food so that populations may grow adequately and be prepared for the beginning of bloom. Almonds are the first major crop to bloom in the spring. Fortunately, almond pollen and nectar are preferred food sources for bees due to their nutritional qualities. This mutually beneficial relationship between the bees (who receive a strong food source) and the trees (whose blossoms are pollinated) is vital. After almond bloom, bees move on to pollinate over 90 agricultural crops across North America, including cherries in Washington State and cranberries in Wisconsin. On average, honey bees pollinate one third of everything on our plates. Therefore, preserving honey bee health is important not only for the livelihood of the California almond industry but for farmers across the country who also have roles to play in maintaining U.S. food security. Without honey bees there would be no almond crop. As employers strive to create a safe, healthy work environment for their employees, so should growers seek to create a healthy work environment for honey bees while they are in the orchard. The Almond Board of California (ABC) has funded decades of research to define key practices growers can execute to maintain honey bee health during the busyness of bloom. In 2014, ABC published the first iteration of the Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds, publishing an updated version in 2018. The BMPs were developed with input from university and government researchers, growers, beekeepers, regulators and chemical registrants. The guide lays out simple steps that growers and beekeepers can take to protect bees and ensure their pollinating potential is realized during bloom. The BMPs are an invaluable tool in educating all pollination stakeholders on how to create a positive environment in the orchard, a process which starts with effective, thorough communication and ends with thinking ahead to next year's pollination. One method that growers and beekeepers may use to improve communications during pollination is the BeeWhere app, which you'll learn more about in the article titled, "Bee Health, Hive Reporting Goes High Tech" on page 4 of this issue. Industry members should visit to view the full BMPs as well as helpful quick guides. Building on a foundation of years of research and the BMPs, the California almond industry took their commitment to honey bee health one step further in 2018 with the release of the Almond Orchard 2025 Goals. Among the four goals, one encourages the industry to increase its adoption of environmentally friendly pest management tools by 25% by 2025. In relation to honey bee health, this goal encourages growers to continue improving application methods and seeking more bee-friendly alternatives to spraying during bloom. The relationship between beekeepers and growers goes much deeper than six weeks of pollination: It is a long-standing exchange of trust in strong, viable bees and protection of bee health in the trees. Ultimately, without these powerful pollinators California would not be able to consistently supply more than 80% of the world's almonds – I don't think that's a world any of us want to live in. Gordon Wardell, Ph.D Chair, Pollination Workgroup Almond Board of California

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