Almond growers and beekeepers, like almonds and bees, are in a pollination partnership, and for good reason - honey bees are essential to almond production.
For the health of the bees and the good of the crop, the almond community, through the Almond Board of California, has funded and continues to fund more research on bee health than has any other commodity organization - $1.6 million since 1995.
Research subjects include nutrition, Varroa mite and other honey bee pest and disease management, the impact of pesticides and technical assistance through tech transfer teams, for beekeepers.
But, just funding research is not enough. We must ensure almonds are, and continue to be, a good and safe place for honey bees.
To this end, the Almond Board is publishing “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds,” along with two BMP Quick Guides. These were developed with a wide array of input from several sources: the almond community, beekeepers, University of California Davis, California and U.S. regulators, and chemical registrants.
Focus on pesticides
These BMPs are comprehensive, but focus on best pesticide practices. For some time now, the Almond Board has been messaging about the proper timing of fungicides needed to protect the crop during bloom.
For instance, applications should occur in the late afternoon and evening when bees and pollen are not present. This timing avoids contaminating pollen with spray materials.
More recently, our messaging has included insecticides. Avoid applying insecticides at bloom until more is known about their impact on bee brood (young developing bees in the hive), and avoid tank-mixing insecticides with fungicides.
Fortunately, there are alternative integrated pest management (IPM) insecticide timings. This recommendation results from recent bee losses associated with almond bloom.
While the losses could have other causes, there is a scientific basis for concern, coming out of field experience that is being substantiated with controlled studies.
Currently, most bee label warnings only address adult acute-toxicity studies. Recent information indicates some insecticide applications may be harmful, particularly to young, developing bees in the hive.
Until recently, the U.S. EPA has not required data for possible effects on bee brood. Foraging honey bees bring back pollen to the hive, which is fed to the bee brood. Insecticide residues have been detected in this pollen.
The term ‘insecticide’ includes insect growth regulators, also known as IGRs. It is important to note that tank mixing of a number of these insecticides and fungicides is not a label violation. The U.S. EPA and California Department of Pesticide Regulation are evaluating information with an eye toward including warnings on product labels.
Communication is key
Another key observation from honey bee losses is that more must be done to strengthen the chain of communication between all pollination stakeholders. These stakeholders are beekeeper, bee broker, owner/lessee, farm manager, pest control adviser (PCA), and applicator.
Key BMPs for communication among these stakeholders include:
· Communication should occur between all pollination stakeholders along the communication chain about pest control decisions during bloom.
· Agreements/Contracts should include a pesticide plan that outlines which pest control materials may be used.
· If a pesticide treatment is deemed necessary, growers/PCAs/applicators should contact county ag commissioners so that beekeepers with nearby managed hives are notified 48 hours in advance.
· Beekeeper and grower should agree on hive removal timing. University of California recommends bee removal when 90 percent of the flowers on the latest blooming variety are at petal fall. Past this point, no pollination is taking place, and bees that forage outside the orchard (up to 4 miles), seeking alternate food sources and water will have a higher risk of coming in contact with insecticide-treated crops, where bee losses have also occurred.
· Report suspected pesticide-related incidents to county ag commissioners. Bee health concerns cannot be addressed without data from potential incidents.
The document “Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds” also includes information on:
· Preparing for arrival;
· Assessing hive strength and quality;
· Providing clean water for bees to drink;
· Using IPM strategies to minimize agricultural sprays;
· Honey bees and self-compatible almond varieties;
· Removing honey bees from the orchard; and
· Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses.
This honey bee BMP guide is available online (starting Oct. 17, 2014) at Almonds.com/BeeBMPs, along with two companion pieces, “Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds” and “Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds” (in English and Spanish).
Printed copies may be obtained by emailing Staff@almondboard.com.