Around 80,000 honeybee colonies, imported by farmers in the San Joaquin Valley to pollinate almond trees, have been damaged or destroyed and the search for what happened keeps leading back to pesticides.
The Sacramento Bee reported last week that 75 growers met with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last March and three-quarters of them said they had significant damage. Bee keepers indicated they thought the problem could very well be related to a practice by farmers of “tank mixing” multiple pesticides, including a couple of new ones: tolfenpyrad and cyantraniliprole. Suspicions were also raised about the spraying of insecticides during the day while bees were foraging.
Beekeepers would like to see regulations that recognize tank mixing and daytime spraying as problems, with warning labels for the former and a ban on the latter. The state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) would like to study the matter more.
California produces 82% of the world's almonds on about 800,000 acres of land from Tehama County to Kern County. The nuts were the state's No. 1 agricultural export in 2012 at $2.5 billion, more than double that of wine. Farmers have been switching to almonds from other crops, like cotton, as the price doubled over the last five years. That may slow as California's ongoing drought highlights the crop's relatively high water requirements.
Around 1,300 bee keepers bring more than 1.2 million colonies to California to pollinate the state's almond trees annually, accounting for 75% of the bees used locally. The bees are then used to pollinate dozens of other fruit, vegetable and field crops. Farmers have been importing more bees of late as a worldwide die-off of bees that began a decade ago has scientists scrambling for answers.
Last January, Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis, explained to the Los Angeles Times what it would take for water-deprived California's to cease growing almonds: “We'll run out of dirt and water before we run out of almond markets.”