Save the almonds if you want to protect honey bees

Save the almonds if you want to protect honey bees

America and the world currently seem nuts about the honey bee.

Home gardeners are building colonies, backyard enthusiasts are rearing them, and until recently there was a Crowdshare opportunity to donate to an idea that directly taps hives for their honey.

Ironically, the one crop said by bee experts to be a complete food source for honey bees is under attack in California by the mainstream and social media for irrigation water use.

California almond farmers use the services of about 1.6 million colonies of honey bees on an annual basis to pollinate the crop. Without bees, almond trees are little more than a good firewood source. With bees, we can create a commodity that generates over $21 billion in economic activity for California.

Why then call for the end of an industry that, aside from its proven economic success, is also largely responsible for honey bee health?

Put another way, water used to irrigate almonds supports the honey bee.

Granted, there are horror stories of honey bee colonies being wiped out by an errant spray rig that either drove over colonies at the end of a row of trees or sprayed them with a legal fungicide that was intended to address a health issue in the trees. Is that the industry norm? No.

Led in large part by the Almond Board of California, efforts are under way to call attention to the necessity of honey bees and to do the right thing by them by promoting the overall health in an attempt to avoid what doomsayers are predicting related to colony collapse disorder (CCD).

What I’ve learned about CCD talking with beekeepers and bee experts is there are a lot of things we do not know about it. One beekeeper told me that he has to replace queens more often than in the past. He also told me that industry-accepted colony losses today seem to be in the 30-35 percent range whereas decades ago that number was 10 percent.

Some use the data to scream from soapboxes about the ills of agrochemicals. Were it not for these chemicals and research programs aimed at breeding tolerance into plants for certain diseases and chemicals we’d be producing a lot less food on this planet.

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t call for the demise of the almond industry because some claim it uses too much water while standing on a soap box over the need to do something to protect the honey bee.

Do you want to do more for the honey bee? Keep California’s almond industry sustainable with ample irrigation water. That’s a good start.

While we can agree that work needs to be done to understand CCD and honey bee health in general, let’s not forget that organizations have stepped up to the plate, including the Almond Board of California and Bayer CropScience, to better understand and address challenges facing honey bees.

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