After traversing what seemed like nearly every mile of the Central Valley this month, I’m finally back in Bloomington. Wyatt got back last week, but I stuck around to attend the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas as part of the AgriNovus Indiana delegation, there to represent Indiana’s Agbiosciences sector. We came back with insights on how to make the first-ever Indianapolis Forbes AgTech Summit shine, but I also took the opportunity to meet with more almond growers and the Almond Board of California to continue our effort to learn about how our research and data can help the industry.
Western Growers Association Welcome Dinner
The conference kicked off in the beautiful courtyard of the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology. The people on hand represented some of the biggest names in agriculture and AgTech. The highlight of the evening for me was watching Edwin Camp, President of D.M. Camp and Sons, win the Champion of Innovation Award. Edwin is a Kern Country grower of many crops, including almonds.
Thrive Demo Day
The first morning of the conference, I attended the Thrive Demo Day for good coffee, great pitches, and even better company. I love watching other startups pitch, and always take away ideas on how to make The Bee Corp pitch stronger. My favorite world-changing idea was Re-Nuble, which turns food waste into organic fertilizer for crops. With an impressive business model that earns revenue both from the food waste collection and their end-product, Re-Nuble will be a fun company to watch.
Forbes AgTech Summit
The event was packed with talks and panels on a wide range of topics—vertical farming, blockchain, sustainability, robotics, soil health, and more. My favorite aspect was how many growers were featured in the panels. The AgTech industry exists to support growers, and I was happy to see that the Forbes organizers didn’t forget that. One interesting takeaway was how Megan Nunes of Vinsight stressed that AgTech companies need to work together through data sharing to best benefit growers.
Now it is Indiana’s turn. Kip Tom of Tom Farms was there to tee up our major announcement: the next Forbes AgTech summit, featuring innovations found across the Midwest, will be held in Indianapolis. As a board member of AgriNovus, I am excited to see the hard work of my fellow Hoosiers pay off! Agbiosciences innovation in Indiana has come such a long way, and we’re excited to get the word out: it’s happening here!
Travaille and Phippen
Another highlight of my week was experiencing the innovation along the almond value chain with a visit to Travaille and Phippen. I was impressed to see the extent of sustainability throughout the growing cycle—even the dirt and rocks that come off the field are recycled for other uses. Dave’s team had left one final last stack of hulls sitting out, and as a birder I enjoyed watching the birds forage for almond pieces that might be hidden in the mound.
In the plant we climbed up brand new machinery aimed at making the factory even more efficient. The entire process is automated; the hulling plant only requires three people to operate the machines! We spoke about how the company has needed to adapt to tariffs by shipping in-shell almonds (think pistachios)—a product with growing market demand in countries like India. We toured through the almond libraries of various USDA grades, and visited the sorting facility where humans and robots work together to quickly sort almonds from a conveyor belt. It was an immersive learning experience, and I was thankful to see the entire process from field soil prep to final product.
Almond Board of California
For the last leg of my trip, I met with folks that work in bee research for the Almond Board of California. We chatted and brainstormed about how the data we are collecting could be a key element to better understand the almond industry supply chain. I also learned about all the research and support programs driven by the Almond Board, and I enjoyed getting to know some of the folks helping beekeepers and growers work together in harmony.
I’m eager for our next trip out west, but for now I’m happy to be back with our bees in the Hoosier state.
In case you missed them, two national beekeeping conferences took place last week: American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) in Reno and American Honey Producers Association (AHPA) in San Diego. Here are some key takeaways and trends we found.
The biggest takeaway from both conferences was the surprisingly low turnout. We heard all kinds of theories, from poor weather across the country to a nasty virus going around. But even with the slow foot traffic this year, there was still plenty of business being conducted. I’ll be the first to admit that vendors love to complain even when things are just fine.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about the new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule, which went into effect on December 18th. The new rule requires commercial truckers to install an ELD to track hours on the road. This change is causing uncertainty for two reasons: costs are expected to rise, and non-stop trips might be at risk.
Agriculture truckers were given a 90-day waiver to comply, which covers those of us trucking bees out for almond season. But come March, you’ll need an ELD to transport hives. For beekeepers, automated trucking can’t come soon enough.
Another hot topic causing buzz this year was the extreme weather that devastated many apiaries in 2017. Beekeepers from Texas and Florida faced severe flooding from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while California beekeepers battled historic wildfires and drought.
Obviously we can’t control the weather, but it’s frustrating that some of the best climates to keep hives are starting to become more and more volatile.
Technology and innovation
While we were all in Reno and San Diego, the top tech companies in the world came together in Las Vegas for CES 2018. But that didn’t stop beekeeping tech companies from going all out for ABF and AHPA. It seems like each year there are more and more innovative companies popping up at beekeeping conferences to showcase their products.
Competition is growing, which means faster innovation and lower prices are soon to come. It’s an exciting time for technology in beekeeping.
Theft and vandalism
We’re all aware that hive theft is becoming a bigger issue these days. With almond prices at an all-time high, it makes sense that some shady beekeepers would steal hives to earn a quick and easy payday. But lately there’s been a growing threat of vandalism, and the motives are puzzling.
What kind of sadistic person stumbles upon a bee yard and thinks, “hey, these would be fun to destroy!” It looks like a pair of teenagers are to blame for vandalizing 50 hives in Iowa late last year. Juvenile shenanigans might explain this instance of vandalism, but I find it hard to believe that kids are the only ones doing it.
Where to overwinter your hives has always been an important question for beekeepers. No matter which climate and region of the country you prefer, at the end of the day you’re still banking on a mild winter to hopefully avoid wild temperatures.
But more and more beekeepers are shifting towards a new solution: overwintering inside giant climate-controlled warehouses normally used to store crops. Companies like Agri-Stor are making a major push, causing beekeepers to re-think how they overwinter their hives. Expect to see more of these cold-storage warehouses cropping up across the country.
There’s so much in store for the beekeeping industry in 2018. I expect to see many exciting new developments and opportunities as our industry continues to grow and adapt.
We spent the past 4 weeks traveling across the country (plus Canada) to attend 5 of the most prominent state beekeeping conferences. Below are some takeaways and impressions from this year’s fall conferences in Oregon, Ohio, Texas, California and New York/Ontario.
Whether you’re planning to organize, exhibit at, or simply attend a beekeeping conference next year, these notes should serve as a useful outline for what to expect.
Our first conference kicked off with one of my favorite programs I saw this fall. Prior to the actual conference, the Oregon State Beekeepers hosted a Commercial Beekeepers Workshop in conjunction with GloryBee and Project Apis m. This workshop covered some really boring stuff like risk management and food safety laws, but these are topics that very serious commercial beekeepers take very seriously.
It’s refreshing to see programming like this designed to teach important business topics not related to beekeeping. This is something I hope to see a lot more of in our industry. As beekeepers become more business-savvy, our industry will start to become more efficient and competitive.
As for the conference itself, I was surprised to see such an even mix of hobbyists, sideliners and commercial guys in attendance. It didn’t seem like the event catered to one type of beekeeper—there was useful programming for all levels.
I think some of the credit goes to the Oregon commercial beekeepers for this. Though they have the resources to make the conference all about them, they made sure to make newbees and hobbyists feel welcome as well.
We took a quick road trip to the Buckeye state, where we stumbled upon some more great programming. This conference was almost exclusively targeted at hobbyists, which makes sense because there aren’t very many large-scale operations in the Midwest.
One thing that really struck me: each session featured a class about technology in beekeeping. Our industry desperately needs to catch up to the times with respect to integrating technology. It’s encouraging to see hobbyists start to take on this challenge, but we really need commercial guys to step up to the plate and fuel innovation.
The Buckeye organizers excelled at vendor coordination. There were 34(!) vendors in Ohio, compared to Oregon’s modest 15. I don’t mean to throw shade at Oregon, but that is seriously impressive for an event targeted towards hobbyists.
Special shout out to organizer Dawn, who went way above and beyond. Dawn made sure lunches and water bottles were delivered to each vendor’s table, and she even had spare cash on hand in case a vendor needed change!
Texas was a last-second addition to our fall conference tour, so we’re thankful that the organizers were able to squeeze us in. This conference was a lot like Oregon, in that it featured a really solid mix of hobbyists, sideliners and commercial beekeepers.
We got a chance to sit in on the group’s business meeting, which turned out to be my favorite part of the whole event. I was really impressed by how well-organized and engaged members were. Although it seemed like the members were mostly hobbyists and the leaders were mostly commercial, members were unafraid to question leaders’ decisions, and leaders were responsive to members’ input.
I found it really interesting to watch this meeting in action because I’d never seen such active membership within a state beekeeping association. The success of the Texas Beekeepers Association can speak for itself—membership has grown substantially over the past few years.
California’s conference was seriously impressive. This conference was like the Academy Awards for beekeeping; all the big players were there. I probably looked like a little kid being taken on a tour through a MLB clubhouse.
There was so much to take away from this conference. For one, there couldn’t have been more than 5 hobbyists in attendance. Although it was good for business to get engaged with so many commercial operations, it would be nice to see the interests of California hobbyists represented a little better.
The diversity of vendors and industry stakeholders made up for the lack of hobbyists to a certain degree. All sorts of companies came out to Lake Tahoe to show off their products; from hive equipment to pharmaceuticals, and from insurance to trucks. If you use a product for beekeeping, there’s a good chance that the manufacturing company was in attendance.
Easily the best part of the programming was the vendor’s reception on the first evening. Given the busy nature of beekeepers, it can be a challenge to get connected with others in the industry. The reception was a prime opportunity to network with key customers and partners, without the usual pressure of selling.
After narrowly escaping a snowstorm in Lake Tahoe, we enjoyed 3 sleepless flights with non-stop turbulence before arriving a few hours late to our final conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Empire State Honey Producers Association and Ontario Beekeepers Association joined forces for this conference, and they did a masterful job.
As you might expect, we were feeling a little groggy by the time we set up our table. Luckily, the event organizers knew how to satisfy such weary travelers; permanent coffee stations and a phenomenal lunch spread were perfect energy boosters to help us through the rest of our 48-hour day.
The food and coffee weren’t the only highlights to note here. What really struck me was the cooperation between American and Canadian beekeepers. It must’ve been quite a challenge to create a program that integrates content relevant to both American and Canadian beekeepers, but the organizers pulled it off flawlessly.
Certain compromises were necessary—for example, American vendors couldn’t take their wares across the border. Still, there was a good mix of American and Canadian vendors, and the attendees didn’t seem to mind.