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2023 ALMOND POLLINATION PRICES

Welcome back to the 5th edition of our annual series covering the prices almond growers pay to rent bees for pollination (previous posts: 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022). As usual, let’s start by checking in on how this season has gone for each side of the almond pollination market, starting with the growers.


2022 Almond season recap


Almond growers continued fighting an uphill battle this season as they struggle to overcome the lingering challenges introduced since the start of the COVID era. Market prices for almonds have been pummeled by supply chain issues since 2020. Though global demand remains stable, prices can’t rebound if buyers don’t receive the product. International shipments fell again in 2022, with year-to-date shipments down 17.4% since October 2020.


Unfortunately, economic issues are only the tip of the iceberg. According to a study published last month by UC Merced, the 2020-2022 seasons have been “the driest three-year period in California’s instrumented historical record.” Rising costs and declining availability of water pose a particularly massive threat to almond growers, who don’t have the luxury of fallowing fields like growers of rice and other annually-planted crops. With a ~25-year lifespan, almond trees are a long-term investment that require constant upkeep to remain productive and profitable.


There’s one silver lining on the horizon for almond prices, though it’s not exactly cause for celebration. In July, the USDA forecasted a startling decline in almond production—estimating a yield per acre of only 1,900 pounds in 2022. For context, that’s 24% lower than 2020 production and the lowest yield per acre since 2009. A product of water stress and heatwaves, as the UC Merced study suggests, decreased yield should result in an uptick in almond prices.


2022 Bee season recap


The effects of California’s record-breaking drought extend beyond the state’s borders, reaching beekeepers nation-wide who rely on pollination income. Total almond acreage decreased for the first time in 25 years, with 60,400 acres removed as of Aug. 31. At 2 hives per acre, this reduces demand by more than 120,000 hives, or about $24 million in pollination fees. Beekeepers who fall victim to orchard removals, like Phil Ebert of Iowa, face the risk of losing out on the season’s most lucrative revenue opportunity.

Source: https://tinyurl.com/5cpdfwva

To make matters worse, massive chunks of the nation’s farmland also saw severe drought conditions this season, particularly in Great Plains states where most of the country’s honey is produced. With scarce rainfall, the nectar-rich plants which bees rely on don’t flourish like usual, resulting in leaner bees and diminished honey production.


Due in part to the amount of driving required of a beekeeper, the pain of rising inflation impacted the bee industry especially swiftly. In addition to trucking hives across state lines several times each year, a typical beekeeper can sometimes drive hundreds of miles per day in heavy diesel trucks just to visit bee yards. As fuel costs climbed to an all-time high this summer, beekeepers still had to visit their bee yards on a regular schedule to feed the hives.


We’ve also heard rumors that Varroa mites were especially aggressive this season, possibly due to increased resilience to popular treatments and control methods. Beekeepers have few options other than increasing treatment frequency or experimenting with different treatments, each of which means higher input costs and more trips to each bee yard.


2023 Almond pollination prices


Each year, we ask our network of growers and beekeepers to share their price per hive for the upcoming season. We collect this data through casual conversation and we don’t make any attempt to verify the responses, so the results may not be representative of the market at large. Here’s our data on almond pollination prices in 2023:

2023

2022

2021

2020

2019

Average

$202

$203

$199

$195

$192

Low

$185

$165

$175

$140

$150

High

$215

$260

$220

$215

$220

Key takeaways


Nearly everyone told us they expected prices to be roughly the same as last year, and the data appears to support this. Though average price per hive hardly changed, I find it interesting (but not surprising) that the high and low prices moved closer to the mean. I see this as a reaction to the financial strain beekeepers and growers dealt with this season.


The beekeepers who once offered low-strength hives at reduced prices are getting squeezed out by high fuel and labor costs which eat into their razor-thin margins. The growers who dished out $260 for premium hives last season are trimming expenses and shifting to a more conservative approach to pollination. As demand for “outlier” hives falls, beekeepers will simply keep those low-strength and premium hives at home, reducing the supply of hives for almond pollination and ultimately driving prices up.


Final thoughts


There was more commotion this year in the almond and bee industries than I can recall in the 7 years since we started The Bee Corp. With climate and economic threats looming over both sides of the almond pollination market, it’s difficult to imagine how next year will play out. One bet I feel safe about: there will be even more drama to come in 2023.

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