No, It Isn't Just Colony Collapse Disorder
Now that summer is (almost) here...
Honey bees coming out of almonds in March this year for the most part were looking great. Almonds are a good crop for honey bees. There is lots of nectar and lots of pollen, and usually the weather is moderate ... that is, not too hot, not too dry, not too rainy, not too cold ... so that the bees can fly, eat and be merry. Life is good in an almond orchard in bloom.
After almonds bees go in several different directions. Some go directly to more pollination jobs, usually right there in California, or moving north to Oregon and Washington, even parts of Idaho for more tree fruit work ... apples, peaches, pears, plums and the like. Many of the beekeepers who moved out to California last fall from the Midwest ... the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, Colorado, and other locations ... can’t really go home in March because it’s still more winter than spring back home, so they want to wait where the weather if better and there’s bee food to be had. So if they can find a pollination job for six or eight weeks to delay that trip east they not only pick up a few dollars from pollination, but they get to let their bees enjoy an additional early summer nectar and pollen harvest.
This turns out to be less ideal than you might imagine however, since it involves at least two, and perhaps as many as six more loading events for the bees, trucks, and beekeepers. And loading events are stressful on all three. But it beats going back to the cold and the snow of home. Moreover, as Joe Traynor, a California pollination broker pointed out not long ago, these beekeepers are kind of trapped out west and the tree fruit growers who need pollination can, and sometimes really do take advantage of them by paying less than if the beekeepers weren’t trapped. Good business, say the growers; beats a sharp stick in the eye, say the beekeepers.
Some bees head out to greener pastures down south ... Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana or other locations. They go there to either make a honey crop on spring flowers there, or, because they came out of almonds fat and happy, to get divided into two or three smaller colonies. Each of these gets a new queen, usually produced by the beekeeper right there in the south, then they will sit there for a bit, taking advantage of the good food and fine weather to grow and develop into strong, healthy full-sized colonies. These splits, as they are called, may stay long enough to actually make a honey crop, if one is to be made (this year, yes, the previous four or five, no), or they may be there only long enough to become established and then they are on the move again, to what by then are prime honey locations back up north. Once home the cycle begins again.In any event one of those scenarios is usually the plan. So summer starts right now but already reports of problems are surfacing. Reports that that new disease ... Nosema cerane ... is rearing its ugly head are surfacing again. When this new disease show up in early summer infected colonies do not build up like they should, they don’t grow like they should, they don’t make the honey crop beekeepers expect, and they start costing money instead of making money. It left unchecked, the adult bees all pretty much disappear by fall, leaving just young bees and a queen ... Wait, doesn’t that sound like Colony Collapse Disorder? Sure it does ... but scientists, so far, don’t think that’s all CCD is.
This population decline, happening right when it is, is terribly timed from a beekeeper’s perspective. For the first time in a long time it looked like beekeepers were going to get a break this summer ... a good pollination season this spring and, with all the rain in the Midwest easing the long-term drought, a good honey crop this summer. And right now, honey is liquid gold! With crop failures in the U.S., Argentina and Canada, plus very diminished imports from China, the available honey in the U.S. right now is ... essentially zero. And the old supply and demand laws kick in and the price of honey goes up ... right now, way, way up ... approaching $2.00/pound, wholesale. Consider that a year ago or so it was in the $0.75/pound range ... that’s an increase U.S. beekeepers could live with for a change.
Don’t forget, every time those bees get picked up and put on a truck, that truck is burning $4.50+ diesel fuel....
Sometimes, it seems, beekeepers just don’t get a break.