California almond bloom, typically from mid-February to mid-March, will be a welcome sight for some of the industry’s most valuable partners. Honey bees will feast on their first natural food source this year – almond pollen – and provide the essential link between almond blossoms and a pollinated almond crop.
“Through research we know that almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees,” said Bob Curtis, Director of Agricultural Affairs at Almond Board of California (ABC). “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.”
The essential, age-old relationship between bees and almonds today represents the single largest managed pollination event in the world. With California’s over 6,800 almond farmers, the Almond Board of California maintains a long-term commitment to ensuring that almond orchards are safe, healthy places for honey bees.
“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. “And without almond blossoms, the bees would lose their first source of natural pollen each year. It’s a win-win relationship.”
To best protect honey bees while they’re in the orchard, ABC released “Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds” in 2014. The BMPs provide farmers and other parties involved in almond pollination with a standardized tool kit of simple, practical and research-based steps they can take to protect and promote honey bee health both inside and outside their orchards.
Eric Mussen, apiculturist emeritus at UC Cooperative Extension, said that with the BMPs, ABC is “responding strongly on honey bee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom.” He went on to say 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. 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.
ABC takes its responsibility as a leader in the honey bee health conversation very seriously, investing more in this issue than any other crop or commodity group1 – funding 100 independent research projects. This includes researching issues about the time bees spend pollinating almonds as well as research that supports hive health throughout the year. Topics of interest for bees and almonds include the impact of orchard pest control materials on bees and the viability of supplemental food sources like blooming plants for when no other natural bee food is available. To support hive health and beekeepers year round, ABC-funded research investigates the varroa mite and other pests that affect honey bees; bee stock improvements and disease management; honey bee nutrition and in-field technical assistance for beekeepers addressing hive health and management.
This year, ABC invested $2.5 million in next-generation farming research including nine honey bee health projects in the key areas noted above. This research fuels the next round of innovation to ensure the California almond community and its essential partner, the honey bee, can continue to grow healthy, nutritious food.
To learn more about ABC’s Honey Bee BMPs, visit Almonds.com/BeeBMPs. For additional information about the pollination partnership between honey bees and almonds, as well as the California almond community’s commitment to honey bee health, please see the new infographic “The Buzz on Bees + Almonds” at http://bit.ly/BeesAlmonds.