Blue Diamond Growers has been a long-time supporter of Project Apis m. (PAm). ) Since 2014, Blue Diamond Growers has supported select research projects and partnered with PAm to help educate growers and build positive grower and beekeeper communications.
Blue Diamond Growers is a grower-owned cooperative. The coop represents approximately 3000 family farmers with an average size of seventy-five acres, an arrangement that helps smaller growers by giving them a collective power to market and sell their almonds.
We caught up with Catherine Campbell, Head of Sustainability and Social Impact, Mel Machado, Director of Member Relations, and Ben Goudie, Membership Development Manager, this month to talk about how Blue Diamond is supporting bee health.
Q. How are almonds and honeybees connected?
BDG: There is an inter-reliance between the almond grower and the beekeeping community because almonds require pollination and honeybees provide that pollination. An almond grower’s income is dependent upon the performance and reliance on commercial beekeepers.
Almonds are one of the crops that are either partially or totally reliant on bees for pollination. Well over 90 percent of all almonds are exclusively cross-pollinated, and even those that are self-fertile require some bees to have great performance and yield.
Q. How does Blue Diamond Growers support PAm and why?
BDG: Blue Diamond has a multi-year sponsorship agreement with PAm to provide financial support for honeybee health research and Seeds for Bees®, in returnPAm provides fact sheets, guidance, and advice about honeybee health and best practices in the field for growers around sustainable farming practices and pollination security.
It's a mutually beneficial relationship in several ways. It's a good working relationship with an information exchange. We've partnered together on some joint efforts to educate our growers, including working with Billy Synk (PAm Director of Pollination Programs) to provide information that we have disseminated to our growers.
One example is the Water for Bees project. We approached Billy Synk with a concern and an idea about how to distribute some guidelines for providing water for bees to growers, and ultimately support beekeepers. Billy worked with us and put together a one-sheet technical document backed with research that outlines how to provide safe drinking water for bees in the field. We piloted the program with a small subset of our growers last spring and it was such a success that we are scaling the program for 2020 bloom. It’s great to be able to leverage each other's technical expertise.
We have had Billy come and talk to some of our growers about Seeds for Bees® to get more of our growers involved in planting forage that supports bees before and after the almond bloom. This year, we have incorporated him into our yearly calendar for education and outreach for our growers. We often talk about Seeds for Bees® with growers and having Billy come and talk to our growers at meetings will continue to help get the word out.
Almond farmers that have been growing for decades traditionally believed that because of frost control you want to clean the orchard floors during and immediately post-bloom. We are just now getting preliminary research results that say you can have a shaggy orchard floor during the bloom and have minimal impact. With this new research, we are having to re-educate farmers about orchard management during the bloom and that’s a real opportunity for Seeds for Bees® and growers to make a bigger impact.
Q. What are some of the challenges that almond growers face when it comes to pollination?
BDG: Weather is always a challenge. Pollination is more successful when you have weather conditions that are conducive to support the bees flight in the fields and even weather post-bloom after the pollination/fertilization has been done can be an issue. Almonds are one of the first crops to bloom in the wintertime and the weather is a key point in our yields.
Q. How does the future look for almonds and honeybees?
BDG: We think the future is very bright. Growers have been seeking the highest value crop in California, and that's almonds. We think the long-term prospects and market fundamentals are sound. There is a need for significant numbers of new beekeepers to replace those that are retiring or cycling out, and many beekeepers have increased their business footprint because of the higher demand for almond pollination. The growth to more than 1.2 million acres of almonds requires an increase in the number of beehives. There's great opportunity for commercial beekeepers to keep up with demand.
Many of our growers don't grow just almonds. As an agricultural community, we need pollinators to grow our food, whether that's an almond crop or some other type of crop. We want to support the health of bees because that helps to feed our families and feed the world. We think that as more research is done and we have a better understanding of issues on both sides for beekeepers and the growers and better communication, all of that together helps to inform best practices. We incorporate those evolving best practices into how we grow during bloom time.
Things are only going to get better. There's a whole lot of good going on in the almond industry and in the bee industry as well because we are basically beneficial, we are supportive of each other.
Q. What kinds of research and programs would support a more sustainable supply of bees and crop production in almonds?
BDG: Varroa is one of the biggest threats to the bee industry right now. A breakthrough in Varroa research would be huge.
Bee forage and habitat is another important piece of healthy bee and pollination security. Getting the word out that forage and cover crops are mutually beneficial for almond growers and beekeepers and broadening that use of habitat would be very beneficial. Bee pasture and habitat in other areas, for example, in North Dakota, is also important to a sustainable supply of honeybees. The almond industry has dedicated tremendous money to research and expanded efforts by farmers to provide seasonal habitat for bees before and after the pollination season through the planting of bee-friendly forage crops. When bees go to other states and work in native bee pastures it is a different environment for them. We definitely want to support beekeepers access and preservation of those diverse prairies and wild lands. Expanded emphasis on creating habitat within agricultural landscapes here in California to support crop pollination, and also in other areas that honey bees rely on for plant diversity are both worthwhile investments.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about Blue Diamond’s efforts to support honeybees or your partnership with PAm?
BDG: It's a great partnership, and we think that there's a lot of synergy. When we combine both of our areas of expertise, that makes a strong and lasting impact not only on Blue Diamond members, but on the overall almond industry and beekeeping community together.
We've always supported the idea of working with the beekeepers and having growers build long-term relationships with their beekeepers that are mutually beneficial. Supporting beekeepers when the hives are coming in for almond bloom, and doing everything they can to protect honey bees while they are there. It's an ongoing role for us. We talk a lot about it.
We appreciate the expertise that PAm brings to our growers and the education and outreach support that PAm provides to Blue Diamond. We see PAm as one of the leaders, really up there with a voice that's doing good work for the beekeepers. We will support that in any way we can.
PAm is proud to work with Blue Diamond Growers, to advocate for honeybees and support pollination security. Our sponsors, partners, and supporters are key to the success of our work for beekeepers and honeybees.