Updated: Dec 30, 2020
We got a ton of traffic on last year's pollination prices post since every almond grower wants to know that they’ve got a good deal. So we’re back again to share some of the whispers we’ve heard about the question on everyone’s mind: what’s a fair price for pollination this season?
I’ll start with the same 2 warnings as last year:
1. We only spoke with a handful of growers, so don’t call your beekeeper demanding a discount because of what you read here. There’s a good chance our numbers could be a few dollars off the true industry average.
2. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR! If the rate your beekeeper’s charging is above average, that’s a good thing. It probably means you’ve got excellent bees. It also means you’re paying enough to deserve proof that you’ve got excellent bees.
2020 almond pollination price per hive
This year we asked 9 almond growers what they’re paying per hive. Here are the results:
· Low: $140
· High: $215
· Average: $195
Earlier this year I wrote about the developments in almond pollination over the past two decades [part 1], [part 2], [part 3], [part 4]. We’ve come a long, long way since the days of $50 hives. Now that almonds are up to almost 1.3 million bearing acres, the supply of bees for pollination is tighter than ever. This gives beekeepers an advantage when it comes to negotiating price. Time will tell whether this results in a bidding war for the best bees.
I was curious to see how the market reacted to the turmoil we faced this past season, where a ton of winter losses paired with unusually cold and rainy weather resulted in a grim outlook. Joe Traynor called it “the worst season, weather-wise, for bee activity during almond bloom in the past 50 years.”
Interestingly, it seems like last season’s troubles didn’t affect the market as much as I would’ve expected. Perhaps pollination fees have reached a plateau, and pricier beekeepers feel like they can’t get away with charging more. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. My take is that the pollination market is splintering into 3 core groups: value hives ($160 and below), solid hives ($160-$200) and premium hives ($200+). Though prices for solid and premium hives might tick up a buck or two each year, growers who rent value hives simply want to keep costs low, so they’re glad to accept the lowest bid available.
For beekeepers, hives rented at the value tier are arguably the most lucrative. There are still quite a few growers content with renting 2 boxes per acre, regardless of what’s in those boxes. Every beekeeper in the country has “value” hives in stock coming into February, but not every beekeeper is willing to send them for pollination, otherwise they risk getting a reputation for low-quality bees. Beekeepers who aren’t afraid of this reputation can generate revenue from hives that would otherwise sit idly.
So while we found the same average price for pollination as last year, I think the numbers are skewed by the consistent demand and pricing for value hives. Prices for premium and solid hives will slowly tick up, while static pricing for value hives will continue to drive down the average.