California Almonds: 4 Things Growers Can Do to Protect Honey Bees

A honey bee heads for an almond blossom in Davis, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beekeepers have been reporting a number of damaged hives, specifically, the loss of immature bee brood at the close of and following this year’s almond bloom. While science-based consensus on the cause is still undetermined, both beekeepers and the almond community are working to address the knowledge gap.

Beekeepers’ Survey

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. Early estimations indicate that losses are significantly less than those reported in 2014.

The Almond Board of California (ABC) is actively coordinating with beekeepers and responsible 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 that is 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.

4 Things Growers Can Do

  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.
    Application of insecticides or tank mixing insecticides with fungicides should be avoided during bloom, and instead, growers should opt for alternative integrated pest management (IPM) insecticide timings until more is known about the impact of insecticides on honey bees, particularly on young developing bees in the hive.
  1. Growers who still have hives present in their orchard should monitor their health by checking for excessive numbers of dead bees in front of hives or clogged hive openings, specifically with dead brood or undeveloped pupae. These growers 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. Click here for a list of signs and symptoms for dead or health-impacted honey bees.
  1. Growers should report suspected pesticide-related hive impacts 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.
  1. Contact the Almond Board’s director of Agricultural Affairs, Bob Curtis, at rcurtis@almondboard.com or (209) 343-3216 to facilitate proper investigation of affected hives that have been removed from the orchard.

While the Almond Board’s Honey Bee BMPs make important recommendations for protecting honey bee health, it is important to recognize that they are both voluntary and go beyond current pesticide labels. As outlined in the Honey Bee BMPs, most bee label warnings are based solely on adult acute toxicity studies. 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.

Even as growers adopt and follow the Honey Bee BMPs, the fact that incidents affecting honey bee health continue to occur highlights the need for thorough, science-based investigations of pest control materials and their impacts on honey bees of all life stages. Both growers and beekeepers can help advance this conversation by properly reporting any suspected incidents they observe for documentation and further investigation.

More detailed guidelines on hive removal and honey bee health considerations are available through the BMP guide and related Honey Bee BMP materials here.


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