|Bee hive at the Fairchild Farm|
Dave Mendes says his colonies have grown dramatically to almost 20,000 hives over the last three years because he now is engaged in “high-input beekeeping” that requires far more work than beekeeping did a decade ago. He splits his hives annually, introduces new queens often, and he takes his bees to California in the spring to pollinate almonds, having switched from honey production.
California almonds command the biggest pollination event on the planet. Some 800,000 acres are planted with the trees, and the acreage is growing. Two-thirds of the country’s honeybee colonies are needed to pollinate them. In 2006-07, there weren’t enough honeybees in the U.S. to pollinate all the almonds, and bees were imported from Australia. That stopped when Asian mites were found on them.
"Before varroa and tracheal mites got here (in 1987 and 1984 respectively) there was a 5 to 10 percent annual loss," says extension bee specialist Mussen. "When we started to bombard colonies with (chemical) mite controls, losses jumped to 15 to 20 percent. Now, we're up to an average of 30 percent. Now, we have varroa mites with viruses that they move around. And yes, neonictinoids are on the market. Put all that together, and meanwhile all the rest of the chemistries are changing, too."