BUSY TIME FOR BEES
Golden State’s $5.6 billion almond crop requires world’s largest bee mobilization
Charleen Carroll and daughter Paula Juarez broker some of the sweetest deals in California.
They are among a handful of bee brokers that oversee a massive migration of bees to the Golden State each year from dozens of other states to help pollinate almost 1.4 million acres of almonds.
The mother-daughter Manteca-based business dubbed Pollination Contracting Inc. matches beekeepers with almond growers each year as far south of Fresno. Once the bees are placed within their clients’ orchards, they make the circuit checking hives to make sure there are adequate bees, that they are healthy, and doing what they are supposed to be doing — pollinating California’s almond crop that last year topped $5.6 billion.
The almond pollination effort — the largest in the world in terms of mobilizing bee hives — not only starts the nation’s crop pollination season but it also requires half of the commercial beehives in the United States to make it happen.
While hives have been in place for weeks in some locations, this week is likely to be the busiest as the mercury is expected to reach the high 70s without a drop of rain. That’s perfect weather for the bees to do their thing and for delicate almond blossoms to stay intact.
And there are a lot of bees doing their thing. Carroll and Juarez place two hives per acre. A typical commercial hive has 60,000 bees. Given there are 87,300 acres of almonds in San Joaquin County there are some 10.4 billion bees busy at work in the orchards around Manteca, Ripon, Escalon, Tracy, and Lathrop. Statewide there are almost 1.4 million acres of almonds that constitute California third largest farm product behind milk at $6.4 billion and grapes at $6.2 million. California — by far the nation’s largest farm state producing crops valued at $49.8 billion or as much as the next two states combined (Iowa $27.4 billion and Texas $21.9 billion).
To give you an idea of what 1.4 million acres of almonds would look like, if all of the California orchards were in one place they’d cover all of San Joaquin County and four-fifths of Sacramento County. As for the 87,300 acres in San Joaquin County they’d come up 2,700 acres short of blanketing the City of San Francisco three times over. San Joaquin County’s almond meat production was valued at $536.3 million in 2018 with hulls and shells accounting for another $20 million in production.