Updated: Apr 2, 2020
As growers shake out their last few loads of the 2019 harvest, beekeepers quietly prepare for another record-setting almond pollination event in 2020. Demand for bees will reach an all-time high this February, as almond bearing acreage may exceed 1.3 million acres. Though we don’t have a recent estimate for total hives at the end of this season, USDA’s January estimate shows that we started the year with 2.67 million hives.
KEEP THE MARKET HONEST
The number one reason every grower should grade hives is to keep beekeepers honest. As bee supply becomes tighter and growers bid higher prices per hive, the likelihood of foul play is bound to grow. Keep an eye out for “beekeepers” looking to take advantage of growers who are desperate to throw money at any available hives. If you’re scrambling for extra bees at the last second, you can ward off potential bad actors by letting them know you intend to grade their hives on delivery. That said, just because the bees aren’t in great shape, it doesn’t mean you’ve found a bad actor (more on this below).
BEEKEEPERS WORK HARD FOR YOU
Another great reason for grading bees is to reward beekeepers for their hard work. Imagine working 4 months to deliver your best product, only for your client to shrug and not take the time to recognize the quality you provided. Beekeepers put in months of work and thousands of dollars to get their best hives in your orchard before bloom. If the bees are better than average, don’t be afraid to toss your beekeeper a few extra dollars per hive. They’ll appreciate the bonus, plus they’ll put the money back into building hives for the next pollination season. Also keep in mind that anyone can have a rough season, so don’t be too hard on your beekeeper if their hives aren’t as good as last year.
TRUST ONLY GOES SO FAR
Though you hope you can take people for their word, bad actors do exist, and you should take steps to protect yourself from them. Just look at all the recent examples of hive theft during pollination. As I mentioned above, grading hives helps to keep everyone honest. And if you’re a grower working with a new beekeeper for the first time, it’s especially important. Just because someone has bad bees one year doesn’t mean they’re a bad actor. The key is how they respond to your complaint. If they downplay your concerns or fail to take steps to resolve the issue, take that as a hint that they don’t value your relationship. If you are unlucky enough to find a bad actor, make sure to share your concerns with fellow growers. You might help a neighbor avoid trouble in the future.
With demand for pollination growing each year and the supply of bees remaining stagnant, the next few pollination seasons may bring some unwelcome changes. But little will change for the honest beekeepers who embrace transparency—besides a boon of new business. The biggest changes will impact ill-prepared growers and shady beekeepers who fail to adapt.