Almond Growers Key To Solving Bee Loss Puzzle

Almond Growers Key To Solving Bee Loss Puzzle

Although not as severe as the bee losses of 2014, beekeepers this year have reported damaged hives – specifically the loss of immature bee brood at the end of almond bloom.

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According to the Almond Board of California (ABC), the cause of the damaged hives hasn’t been determined. However, growers and stakeholders must take it upon themselves to be part of the solution.

“Because of the effort that was put into [ABC’s] honeybee best management practices (BMPs) and getting the word out, the losses are much less than what they were in 2014,” says Bob Curtis, ABC Director of Agricultural Affairs. “But it’s still troubling that we have these losses.”

To begin to assess the scope of this year’s impacts, the California State Beekeepers Association and others have recently sent out a beekeeper survey. This survey highlights the importance of proper incident reporting and investigation.

ABC is actively coordinating with beekeepers and other agencies to ensure proper investigations are carried out on affected hives. Prior to the 2016 pollination season, a coordinated approach was agreed upon by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and Bee Informed Partnership (a research and outreach program providing technical support to beekeepers funded primarily by USDA with support from others) to address sampling needs for affected hives both in the state and those that have moved out of state since bloom. The Almond Board will be among those providing financial support for analysis of these samples.

What Growers Can Do
Here are some steps growers can take to help protect beehives:

  1. During bloom, fungicide applications should be avoided when bees are foraging in the orchard and applications timed for the late afternoon and evening when bees and pollen are not present. Additionally, application of insecticides or tank-mixing insecticides with fungicides should be avoided during bloom. Instead, growers should opt for alternative integrated pest management insecticide timings until more is known about the impact of insecticides on honeybees, particularly on young developing bees in the hive.
  1. Growers who still have hives in their orchards should monitor hive health by checking for excessive numbers of dead bees in front of hives or clogged hive openings, specifically with dead brood or undeveloped pupae. A full list of signs and symptoms for dead or sickly honeybees can be found on page 17 of ABC’s “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds” (Honey Bee BMPs). Additionally, growers who still have hives in their orchards should contact their beekeeper about appropriate hive removal timing. With orchards far beyond petal fall, bees are no longer providing pollination services and will fly farther afield to find pollen, risking exposure in adjacent crops as well as inside the orchard as normal post-pollination activities occur. The Honey Bee BMPs specify that bees can be removed when 90% of the flowers on the latest blooming varieties are at petal fall, as beyond this, no pollination is taking place.
  1. If suspected pesticide-related hive impacts are observed in the orchards, or if growers hear about them from their beekeeper, a report should always be made to the local county agricultural commissioner regardless of where the hives are now located. Without proper reporting, there is no official record of the incident or investigation to collect the information necessary to advance knowledge of bee health risks. It is especially important to gather information about pesticide application timings and conditions, product names and active ingredients. Pages 17 and 18 of the ABC Honey Bee BMPs further explain what information is helpful to report and what to expect in an investigation.
  1. To facilitate proper investigation of affected hives that have been removed from the orchard, growers and beekeepers can contact the Almond Board’s Director of Agricultural Affairs, Bob Curtis, at [email protected] or 209-343-3216.

While the Almond Board’s Honey Bee BMPs make important recommendations for protecting honey bee health, it’s important to recognize they are both voluntary and go beyond current pesticide labels.

Most bee label warnings are based solely on adult acute toxicity studies. The U.S. EPA is now requiring data on the possible effects of these materials on young, developing bees in the hive. It will take time to obtain and analyze that data to determine if pesticide label revisions are necessary and pass those on to the market.

“In the meantime, we’re going to continue to very much stress and extend our BMPs, which, given the big picture, are having a positive effect,” Curtis says.