The new year is almost here, and you know what that means. That’s right, the 2022 almond pollination season is right around the corner. We’re back with the fourth installment of our annual series tracking the price growers are paying for almond pollination (previous posts: 2019, 2020, 2021).
The pollination price data we collected is self-reported by a small sample size of growers and beekeepers. Though our results may not be representative of the whole industry, one thing will always remain true if you're renting hives for pollination: you get what you pay for.
If you pay a premium price per hive, you should expect to receive premium quality. If you want hives at a lower price, the quality of the service and the value of the bees are unlikely to impress. If reducing your cost of pollination is a priority, you’re better off renting fewer hives at a higher price per hive than trying to negotiate down on price for average hives.
A bit of context
Before we get into the numbers, let’s recap what’s happened in the past year that may have impacted the market for pollination. As expected, water issues take center stage as the main topic of concern. While policymakers scramble to implement solutions, the problem has only continued to mount in scale and complexity.
Here’s a very simplified breakdown of the situation: California divides its water between three parties: farms, cities and the environment. Growers feel they aren’t getting access to the water they need to grow their crops. Cities and environmental advocates argue that far too much water is allocated to Ag. All three believe they deserve a bigger piece of the pie.
The “pie” in question is surface water stored in the state’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs and transported throughout the state via its vast network of canals. Though California’s State Water Project is responsible for delivering as much as 4.2 million acre-feet of surface water in a wet year, it continually fails to meet its target. In December, SWP informed its agencies that it won’t distribute any water at the start of 2022.
As access to surface water falls to zero, the impacts are felt first by small operations and family-owned farms. For large farms backed by wealthy investors, zero surface water is a business opportunity. By drilling wells deeper than anyone else, large farms can thrive on groundwater that small neighboring farms can’t afford to reach. The result is a gradual consolidation of the industry. Those who can’t afford a deeper drill will be forced to sell their water-starved land for pennies on the dollar.
We began to see some of these impacts bubble to the surface in 2021. Several almond growers whose hives we graded earlier this year informed us that they had to rip out entire orchards over the summer. Whether this will impact the market for pollination is yet to be seen.
2022 Almond pollination prices
Now, onto what you came here for. Based on our conversations with almond growers and beekeepers, these are the prices growers are paying for almond pollination in 2022:
For the third consecutive year, average price per hive climbed another few dollars. But what’s more interesting to me are the high and low prices. The wider range of prices may suggest that growers are being more strategic about pollination this year by thinking in terms of “frames per acre” rather than “hives per acre”. In other words, rather than renting two 8-frame hives per acre at $200 each, you’d rent 1.5 11-frame hives at $230-250 each. You get 16 frames of bees per acre either way, but the premium hive approach is cheaper.
Speaking of the premium hive market, I’m surprised by the movement there. $260 is a significant jump for high-strength hives, which had never exceeded $220. I might be reaching, but one possible explanation is Joe Traynor's retirement. Joe built a reputation on delivering nothing but the strongest hives, and nobody dared charge more than him. With Joe out of the game, there’s no definitive price ceiling for premium hives.
If the water issues had any impact on the market for almond pollination, I would’ve expected prices to decrease. As growers rip out trees, there are fewer acres to pollinate. Declining demand typically results in lower prices. But it may take time for this to take effect, and this is only the beginning.
Looking ahead to 2022, there are many interesting storylines to follow. As challenges continue to mount for almond growers, the beekeeping industry—which is heavily dependent on income from almond pollination—is paying close attention. I’m curious to see how water issues play out this year and how growers will respond. If we see an increase in orchard removals this year, you might find some juicy drama in our 2023 almond pollination prices blog post.
Before I sign off, I encourage you to check out our pollination resources. These are packed with details on how to improve pollination management and achieve optimal results: