Every February, beekeepers from all over the nation drive to California’s almond orchards with semi trucks teaming with honeybees. In fact it takes 1.5 million beehives to pollinate California’s almonds. To put things into perspective California’s 2012 almond acreage is estimated at 870,000 acres, up four percent from 2011. That’s roughly 1.4 million miles of one monoculture that’s dependent on bees to propagate.
Unfortunately bees continue to die at alarming rates, nearly seven years since Colony Collapse Disorder was first discovered. As a result, each year beekeepers scramble to find healthy hives to send. Inspectors rigorously check for healthy hives while beekeepers expose their bees to other bees, viruses, fungicides, and only one pollen-based diet of almonds for several weeks at a time since.
Due to the losses, almond farmers have seen the price of renting beehives for their orchards triple over the last decade. Today beekeepers can now charge on average between $150 to $200 per hive, and it usually requires hundreds to pollinate their plots for the four weeks that almonds are blooming. Because of this the almond industry alone can keep a beekeeper in business since it’s their most profitable crop. (Commercial beekeepers spend their time going from one crop to the other (almonds, blueberries, cranberries, apples, pumpkin) throughout the year.
Due to the shortages, the wholesale price of almonds reached an eight-year high with the figure expected to continue to rise as almonds become even more popular, and honey bee populations continue to decrease. (As an aside, since most almonds are radiated, we suggest organic almonds from Peru.)
In 2012, almonds cost $2.20 per pound, up from $1.99 the previous year. The record high was established in 1995 at $2.48 a pound.
“The all-time high will definitely be broken soon,” said an almond manufacturer who wished to remain anonymous. But what happens if there aren’t enough of our indentured slaves—the bees—to do the job?
Maryam Henein is an investigative journalist, professional researcher, and producer of the award-winning documentary Vanishing of the Bees.