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October 22, 2014 - By Christine Souza - In preparation for pollination that attracts an estimated 1.6 million honeybee colonies to California almond orchards each year, the Almond Board of California has unveiled a set of bee "best management practices" as a guide intended to improve honeybee health.

(left) Beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson talks to neighboring almond grower Eric Genzoli about best management practices for honeybees newly released by the Almond Board of California.  Photo/Christine Souza

"Nobody is a bigger fan of honeybees than almond growers," said Richard Waycott, chief executive officer of the Almond Board. "Without bees, there would be no almonds. And without almonds, bees would lose a vital source of nutritious pollen."

In releasing the best management practices last week, Waycott described the BMPs as "another significant milestone in our decades-long commitment to protect bee health and preserve that mutually beneficial relationship."

Developed with input from sources including almond growers, beekeepers, researchers, chemical registrants and regulators, the BMPs represent what the Almond Board called simple, practical steps that farmers can take with beekeepers to protect and promote bee health.

The BMPs emphasize the importance of communication among everyone involved in pollination, including beekeepers, bee brokers, farm owners and lessees, farm mangers, pest control advisers and applicators. The recommendations include information on preparing for honeybee arrival; assessing hive strength and quality; providing clean water for bees to drink; using integrated pest management strategies to minimize application of materials; removing bees from the orchard; and pesticide plans between the beekeeper and farmer that outline pest control materials to be used.

Beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson said the Almond Board BMPs for honeybees are good for both the apiary and almond sectors "as long as it's accepted and heeded by the almond growers."

While experts agree that more research would be beneficial on honeybees' interaction with various crop-protection materials, Eric Mussen, Cooperative Extension apiculturist emeritus at the University of California, Davis, said, "With these best management practices, the Almond Board is responding strongly on honeybee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom."

He said the recommendations provide "important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honeybee health."

Eric Genzoli, who grows almonds with his family in Turlock and Hughson, said his operation has most of the BMPs in place and has "never had any issues related to the bees."

Genzoli said he has developed a good relationship with the beekeepers whose bees pollinate his orchards.

Almond grower Sonny Johns of Modesto said he values what beekeepers and bees mean for the almond crop and has a great interest in maintaining honeybee health.

"We want people to understand that the almond industry is doing its job as growers. We are not out there doing applications without considering the bees and bee pollen," Johns said.

"You've got to take care of your investment," Genzoli said. "You've got to take care of the bees."

U.S. beekeepers report losses of bees each year, citing problems such as pests and diseases, the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder, and a lack of forage due to the drought.

The BMPs for bees released by the Almond Board also include a "Quick Guide for Almonds" and bee BMPs for applicator/drivers. The information and bee BMP documents are available at www.almonds.com/growers/pollination#BeeBMPs.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)  

Reprinted with permission: California Farm Bureau Federation