POLLINATION POACHING ISN'T OK
Updated: Dec 22, 2022
Dragging the soapbox out for this one. Quick disclaimer before we get going: the growers and beekeepers we interact with are mostly kind, respectful people who do the right thing more often than not. Every so often, you’re bound to run into a jerk. Jerks exist in every industry on the planet. Beekeepers and growers are no exception.
Sometimes you don’t realize you’re being a jerk until someone calls you out. I’ve been guilty of it more than I’d like to admit. It’s an unfortunate but necessary aspect of growing as a person. It sucks to get called out, but it can be a valuable learning experience as long as you recognize your jerky behavior, apologize, and change for the better.
Today, I’m calling out almond growers who don’t rent bees for pollination. If this describes you, I’ve got some bad news: this is the behavior of a jerk. It doesn’t matter if you only have 10 acres of almonds. It doesn’t matter if you grow a self-fertile variety. Either way you slice it, it’s a bad look.
I can think of three reasons that would make it OK for an almond grower to not rent hives:
1. “My neighbor arranges everything with the beekeeper and I compensate my neighbor”
I love this approach and I wish it were more common. An 18-wheeler carries about 400 hives. If you have less than 200 acres, you need less than a truckload of bees. By teaming up with your neighbor, you save the beekeeper the hassle of delivering a partial truckload, strapping everything back down and delivering the rest elsewhere.
2. “I’m a beekeeper and I use my own hives to pollinate my trees”
Nothing wrong with this strategy except I can’t imagine when you’d ever get any sleep.
3. “I place nets around my trees to keep my neighbors' bees out”
Not sure why anyone would do this, but as long as your neighbors' bees aren’t visiting your trees, you’re good.
These are the 2 most common reasons we hear for why a grower doesn't rent hives:
1. “I grow a self-fertile variety so I don’t need bees”
This is easily the most common excuse we hear. Though there are elements of truth to this rationale, it’s a misleading argument that ignores the bigger picture. It’s also possible that it’s just the default excuse growers use to get our sales folks to quit calling.
It’s easy to see why growers would want trees that need zero bee pollination, so it’s easy to imagine why nurseries would make this claim. It’s true that certain self-fertile varieties can produce a decent harvest without any bee pollination. But unless you’re the guy who wraps your blooms with bee nets, you’re stealing value from your neighbors by not renting hives.
Here’s the thing about self-fertile varieties: the pollen still attracts bees whether you rent them or not. Even if you’re fully bought in to the bee-free approach, you can’t prevent your neighbors’ bees from visiting your blooms. A study published in February examined the output of Independence trees with and without bee pollination. They found that bee pollination resulted in a 60% increase in fruit set and a 20% increase in kernel yield compared to bee-free trees.
There are no two ways about this. If you choose not to rent hives for your self-fertile trees, you’re gaining a direct financial benefit at the sake of your neighbor. If you don’t think it’s that big a deal, consider how you’d feel if you found out your neighbor was siphoning off your irrigation lines.
2. “My neighbors rent enough hives to pollinate both our orchards”
We don’t hear this quite as often but it’s still surprisingly common. My follow-up to this response would be, “is your neighbor OK with this?” If you’ve got a super cool neighbor who’s down with subsidizing your income, then by all means, keep doing what you’re doing.
I won’t get into what it means to be a good neighbor, but there’s a line between accepting generosity and taking advantage. I can’t speak to the relationships you have with your neighbors, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable accepting free pollination without offering anything in return.
I try to find valid arguments from different sides of an issue but I can’t find any grey area in this debate. Either you rent bees or you’re poaching off your neighbor. Unless your neighbor is OK with this arrangement, you’re behaving like a jerk. Maybe your neighbor's a bigger jerk and taking their bees is your way of getting back at them. I’ve had bad neighbors. I get it.