Updated: Aug 28, 2020
In my previous post, I discussed the differences in how beekeepers and growers approach their work. The relationship between growers and beekeepers has vastly evolved in recent years—a result of the ever-increasing co-dependence between the almond and beekeeping industries. After writing about conflict in pollination, I felt readers would appreciate a follow-up post exploring how relationships in pollination have changed over time.
A simpler time
In the early days of almond pollination, growers and beekeepers could get by with informal agreements and a friendly relationship. At the time, fewer acres of almonds meant less competition to procure quality bees and a stronger population of native pollinators could provide adequate pollination in the absence of honeybees. Though renting hives was still a common practice, honeybee pollination simply didn’t add as much value to almond production compared to today.
If a beekeeper had trouble delivering enough strong hives one season, the grower could give them a pass and say, “sorry about your bees, see you again next year.” The grower didn’t have to panic to find bees and the beekeeper didn’t have to worry about finding another grower to work with the following year.
As almond acreage entered rapid expansion around the turn of the century, beekeepers began experiencing abnormally high colony losses while native bee species faced a dramatic decline. These factors forced growers to take their relationships with beekeepers more seriously. With far more at stake during bloom, growers could no longer afford to be lenient with beekeepers. In the span of a few short years, relationships between growers and beekeepers evolved from friendly and informal to deliberate and transactional.
But beekeepers weren’t completely caught off guard when growers suddenly started expecting more accountability. In the years leading up to the shift, honey production had gradually become less profitable, and beekeepers needed a dependable revenue stream. With more trees to pollinate and new growers bidding for hives each season, almond pollination quickly became a no-brainer for beekeepers as long as they could deliver strong hives.
The recent growth in almond production is an interesting case of serendipity, where two fledgling industries on the brink of maturity couldn’t succeed unless the other was willing to put in the effort. Almond growers saw an expansion opportunity that was only possible if beekeepers were willing to step up to the plate.
At the same time, beekeepers needed a source of income they could rely on year after year. Without exchanging a word, almond growers and beekeepers doubled down on their investment into each other, trusting the other would pull their weight.