Colony Collapse Disorder is still the villain in the almond orchards this year ... though whether its CCD or some other malady is too often hard to decipher. Nevertheless, CCD most always gets the blame.
Reports are that more colonies crashed this year than last year (and many had those typical CCD like symptoms), so that means more colonies have crashed this year than ever. Many, far too many went down after they had been placed in their pollination locations in the orchards. There they died, sometimes; or limped along at 10% strength for the duration. A colony with hardly any bees does no pollination since the remaining bees, and the queen, are needed to stay home and take care of the young that remain after a CCD crash.
Mostly these dead or dying colonies werent replaced because there are no extra bees to replace them with. A lot of colonies, thousands and thousands and thousands, crashed after they got to the Golden State, and theres only empty boxes to bring home. Empty boxes earn no money, either.
As a result of these crashed colonies, or the many weakened colonies that remain, some beekeepers are reducing the price they are charging for their bees to compensate for the small populations and reduced pollination potential that results. The cost of getting and keeping those colonies to California hasnt gone down though...
To combat this some beekeepers are using remote sensing devices armed with GPS technology carefully hidden and embedded in colonies that are satellite linked to their cell phones (now theres irony for you...) to let them know they have been moved ... and where they have been moved to. But not many have invested in this technology so far ... my bet is that will change.
The almond crop seems to be incredible so far ... but its early ... due to the excellent weather the bees had for pollination. You have to understand that almonds, like many crops that require pollination, dont require much or for long ... but it has to be at exactly the right time. You may only get one good flying day in almonds, and you better have 10 times the bees youd need on a good year to get all that pollination done in that tiny window of time. So when there is good weather, and there are enough bees, essentially every blossom in the orchard gets attention ... which is exactly what growers want ... every flower needs to produce that single, profitable nut, and they are happy.
Most of the trees are now at, or very near petal fall, so the season is wrapping up. Rain at the right time, or timely irrigation will ensure a good crop down the line ... but it all starts with those honey bees.
Just as this situation is winding down, another, related crisis is looming for beekeepers. One particular pesticide, used on a wide variety of crops has been banned by the EPA and pretty much every environmental group in the U.S. Furadan, manufactured by FMC has been blamed for killing millions of birds, trillions of bees, and more wildlife than you can imagine. EPA finally banned it and it was set to be removed shortly ... that is until farmers and FMC decided that it shouldnt be. They even have a congressman, Sen. Hatch from Utah (the Bee Hive state ... theres that irony again), supporting them. Theres a pitched battle right now on keeping, or not keeping this poison available ... and killing more birds, more bees, and more of everything it touches.
Its always something.
CCD? Well, no, this isnt CCD. But dead bees tell no tales, no matter what killed them.
Now that the bloom is winding down, better analyses of what caused all those crashes is beginning even as you read this ... and the early reports are scary. Virus certainly is playing more of a role than most thought it would, and varroa mite ... that wicked, evil bug ... is still at the heart of it all, it seems. Control varroa in a colony and all the rest of these demons seem to fall into place.
But the looking still goes on and time, research, money and probably luck will tell the rest of the story. Stay tuned.
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