By: Ann-Marie Jeffries, Growing Produce|
As many as 1,700 bee hives have been stolen from California orchards this year – and those are only the reported thefts.
According to Joy Pendell, Media Director for the California State Beekeepers Association, no one has really been keeping an accurate record of hive thefts. But she’s hoping that will change.
“It’s important to report these crimes,” she says. “Right now we don’t have a really good record of hives that were stolen last year, this year, or in years past, because beekeepers tend to think it’s a lost cause – that once the hives are stolen, they’re never going to be recovered,” she says.
But that’s not necessarily the case. Nearly 70 hives belonging to Olivarez Honey Bees Inc. that were stolen from Chico were recovered when a fellow beekeeper noticed some of Olivarez’s hives in an orchard farther south than the company typically places hives. That thief was eventually caught.
“The thefts seem to be increasing proportionally with the price of pollination,” Pendell adds.
The price for almond pollination hive rental is about $190 per hive now, and she estimates a whole hive itself is worth anywhere from $300 to $500.
“It’s an easy way to make a lot of money,” she says of the thefts. “You just pick up some beehives right before the almond bloom and rent them to a farmer who doesn’t ask very many questions.”
Preventing Hive Thefts Part of what makes hive thefts such a tricky crime to prevent is that hives aren’t generally placed in high-traffic areas. Even if they are placed near roads, it’s unlikely passersby will know if someone taking the hives is a the beekeeper or a thief. “They’re kind of like sitting ducks,” Pendell says of the hives. “They’re out there unguarded.”
Some bee brokers are actually hiring their own surveillance companies to drive around at night and keep a watch on the beehives, and Pendell says she’s even heard of some beekeepers experimenting with GPS tracking devices.
But almond growers themselves could prove to be the best defense. Pendell says that while she doesn’t mean to place any responsibility on the growers for the stolen hives, asking questions could help thwart future thefts.
“Farmers should be encouraged to start asking questions and start inspecting brand numbers,” she says.
If a grower finds hives have been stolen from his property, he should contact the beekeeper immediately, and also report the theft to the sheriff’s department.
“They need to report it, if nothing else so that the sheriff knows what a big deal it is and the public knows what a big deal it is,” Pendell says. “And maybe we can organize and figure out a way to solve this problem.”