February 15, 2016
Almond production has grown consistently and quickly over the past few years, especially in California due to the ideal climate. And the one thing the almond industry needs more than anything for a successful season--one that can support California's $6 billion industry--is a solid population of pollinators, aka the honey bees. They are so necessary for growth and having a successful harvest that farmers are willing to pay a high rental fee to acquire one beehive for an entire season, upwards of $200 for almond pollination. Unfortunately, it’s for that reason that beehives have become targets for theft in recent months--nearly 1,000 instances of it.
Half dozen honeybee thefts have been reported in five counties--Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Kern and Sutter--with up to $100,000 lost for some beekeepers. According to Butte County Sheriff’s Detective Jay Freeman, the thefts have been “picking up this year. That could be due to the increased prices and pollination fees and also a shortage of bees coming into California as well.”
This is not a new topic for the beekeeping industry. There is an ongoing issue with declining honey bee populations due to diseases and the Varroa mite, as well as the ongoing debate over the origins of Colony Collapse Disorder (the phenomenon of worker bees disappearing and leaving behind their queen). These many ongoing factors--including the thefts in California--have contributed to what Joy Pendall, spokesperson for the California State Beekeepers Association, calls “a bit of a shortage” in hives for crop pollination.
One interesting twist in the case of the hive thefts is that authorities, including Detective Freeman of Butte County, believe that other beekeepers are behind some of the thefts. This is because the thefts involved common beekeeping equipment, such as flatbed trucks and forklifts, to handle up to 300 hives in one night. The thefts typically happened at night when the colonies were resting in their hives as a skilled beekeeper would know, which likely contributes to that one ongoing theory.
Whether or not the perpetrators are discovered to be fellow beekeepers, these thefts do little to improve the ongoing bee shortage and only hurt the almond industry by driving up rental fees. The almond trees will begin blooming in the next couple of weeks, which is the prime time of pollination, so hopefully almond growers and beekeepers will find some relief as the police investigates.