As I write this blog another semi has crossed the Ag Inspection Station in Blythe. It is filled with millions of bees on their way to the central valley of California for the Almond pollination in early February. The bees have traveled thousands of miles–mostly North Dakota and Minnesota. There is no natural forage left in the north country, so these migratory bees have been fed a pollen supplement and high fructose corn syrup. Once they arrive to the monoculture that we used to call California, they will be fed more of the same. Needless to say, they are stressed, tired, and angry from eating nothing but crap for months. The same can be said for the bees too, not just truckers. 😉
I am a masters of plant science grad student at CSU Fresno, and I have begun to form a research proposal on the link between bee nutrition and colony collapse disorder. Look for my updates over the next two years.
There are currently over 780,000 acres of almonds under cultivation in California. This is up from 640,000 in 2007 (USDA, 2012). Almonds are almost exclusively pollinated by honeybees (Apis mellifera). Each year in February 1.5 million hives are placed in CA almond orchards. Many of these hives are transported thousands of miles. This represents 2/3 of all commercial hives in the United States, and totals over 40 billion bees. It is the largest organized pollination act in the world. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) threatens this essential pollination act, and consequently a cash crop worth $3.6 billion in California (USDA, 2012) .
CCD can be simply described as when adult bees abandon the hive all together, leaving behind brood, the queen, and a few workers and drones (vanEngelsdorp et al. 2009). Beekeepers in the United States have reported yearly total losses of 30-90% of their colonies since 2006. This mystery is compounded by the disappearance of the bees, so necropsy is not possible. The root cause of CCD has been the focus of much study, and its cause is still a mystery. One idea theorizes that the bees are under stress from the forced migration, and suffer nutritional deficiencies as a result of supplemental feedings in the time of dearth preceding almond bloom, and from the collection of pollen and nectar from a massive monoculture system. It is this theory that will be the focus of my research.
The hypothesis of this proposed study is that strategically planted oilseed cover crops, that bloom prior to, and shortly after the almond pollination, may lead to differences in bee colony growth, development, pest population dynamics, and ultimately affect crop yield.
USDA http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Fruits_and_Nuts/201205almpd.pdf [URL accessed November 2012]
http://www.ars.usda.gov/News/docs.htm?docid=15572 [URL accessed December 2012
Huang, David, http://bees.msu.edu/2011/honey-bee-update-and-fruit-pollination/ [URL accessed November 2012]
vanEngelsdorp D, et al. 2009. Colony Collapse Disorder: A Descriptive Study. PLoS ONE 4: e6481.