Quiet, unassuming, modest and self-deprecating is not how you would imagine describing a titan or elder statesman of an industry but that was Joe Traynor, bee broker, pomologist, apiculturist, bee research philanthropist and dedicated family man. Joe passed away peacefully the morning of August 26, 2023 surrounded by family. His friends, family and the industry mourn their loss.
If you were involved in almonds, almond pollination or California beekeeping you knew Joe Traynor. For over 45 years Joe was the preeminent bee broker in California almond pollination. I first met Joe when I was doing research on honeybee nutrition. It was early February 2002 and I wanted to get some experience with the nutritional aspects of bees going into almond pollination. Joe was referred to me by several commercial beekeepers so I decided I needed to meet this guy in person. Joe gave me the time and place to meet. It was 6 AM at the IHOP on Rosedale Highway in Bakersfield, CA. When I walked into the IHOP I was surprised to see a table full of what I can only describe as “beekeeper types”. Some looking exhausted from too many nights of placing countless pallets of colonies in orchards, others looking fresh and ready to go. They were the inspectors who that day would grade the strength of colonies Joe brokered. Joe paid a very fair price to the beekeepers he brokered and by using inspectors he was able to assure the grower they were getting what they paid for. Included in the group at the IHOP were two USDA bee researchers from Weslaco Texas. Joe not only brokered bees for almond pollination but he helped link researchers with beekeepers and orchards to do their investigations. These studies often helped Joe demonstrate to the growers that stronger bee colonies did a better job of pollination to set a better crop. Being at that nexus between ag science, commercial beekeeping and production agriculture was that sweet spot where Joe placed himself.
"Joe not only brokered bees for almond pollination but he helped link researchers with beekeepers and orchards to do their investigations. These studies often helped Joe demonstrate to the growers that stronger bee colonies did a better job of pollination to set a better crop."
Joe was born in Oakland on March 3, 1936 into a family of lawyers. His parents, Roger and Madeline Traynor, had similar aspirations for him but he had fallen in love with California orchards. After graduating from high school in Berkeley, he served two years in the U.S. Army before earning a bachelor’s degree in pomology at UC Davis. After graduating, Joe worked with a commercial beekeeper in Bakersfield before deciding to pursue a Masters degree. He fell in with the beekeeping researchers at UC Davis and was on the cutting edge of pollination research. His work at Davis convinced Joe that stronger, well-placed colonies did a better job of setting nuts on a tree. Years later Joe would be the driving force behind higher rental fees for beekeepers placing bees in almonds. After graduating he worked with fruit and nut growers but always maintained his contacts with the beekeepers. In 1973 Joe started his brokering business, Scientific Ag Company. At the time beekeepers were getting paid $10 per colony to place their colonies in almond orchards.
Soon, to the credit of the Almond Board of California, almond acreage grew rapidly and further research at UC Davis demonstrated the benefits of adequate pollination. Citing these studies Joe began pushing growers to contract larger colonies and to compensate the beekeeper for these superior bees at the same time Joe pushed his beekeepers to provide an eight frame minimum. That means eight frames in each hive to be at least two thirds covered by bees. Previously four and five frame colonies were the standard. For the extra work to produce the larger colonies Joe convinced the growers to pay a premium price for the pollination service and to Joe’s credit, higher yields were observed, the growers were happy.
As the almond industry grew, the price of pollination grew nearly 10% per year. Joe was always at the top of the list, he took good care of his beekeepers. Every year in the winter when pollination fees were discussed the first question was always, “what’s Traynor paying?”. When Joe left the brokering business colonies were renting for as much as $220 per colony. Joe fought hard for the beekeepers he brokered and for the industry. He was unapologetic about pushing the growers and almond industry to compensate the beekeepers fairly. Another of Joe’s attributes was generosity. He would contribute two dollars from every colony he brokered to bee research. He would contribute to individual researchers and established nonprofits, anywhere he thought his contribution would get traction and results. Joe was an original board member of Project Apis m. a nonprofit that supports applied research for bees and pollination. Over the years he contributed more than $500,000 to bee research.
"Joe fought hard for the beekeepers he brokered and for the industry. He was unapologetic about pushing the growers and almond industry to compensate the beekeepers fairly."
During the almond pollination season Joe would leave his home and family and move into his small upstairs Bakersfield office with a small cot on which to sleep and three phones ringing incessantly from either beekeepers looking to place colonies, growers looking for more colonies or truck drivers with a load of bees that got stuck at the California border inspection. During the pollination season Joe was in his element. Joe’s wife Nema (amen spelled backwards) would often bring meals by his office because she knew he would forget to eat. During almond bloom Joe was totally absorbed by all aspects of the process.
To say Joe was an avid reader is an understatement, he was a voracious reader. He was always seen with a book or publication in his hand. During the off-season Joe would routinely send out articles that he thought would be of interest to friends, scientists or beekeepers hoping to get a conversation started. If you know Joe you would know that he liked to “stir the pot” he relished a good discussion. Joe knew his science and loved to debate it. If you ever had the opportunity to visit Joe’s office in Bakersfield you would have been confronted by a wall of filing cabinets and papers, magazines and books stacked everywhere. It looked chaotic but if asked about an article Joe could put his fingers on it in seconds, pulling it from the middle of a pile.
If all of this wasn’t enough, Joe was well published. He was the author of numerous articles about bees, pollination, plant nutrition, honey, pollination ecology and California agriculture policy. He published a regular newsletter and authored three books “Almond Pollination Handbook for Growers and Beekeepers”, “Ideas in Soil and Plant Nutrition” and “Honey – the Gourmet Medicine”.
In the off season, Joe would escape the heat of the San Joaquin Valley and head to his second home near Lake Tahoe where Joe would swim and hike, spend time with family and read. A favorite day would be to enjoy a morning swim at the rec center then fill his day pack with books, some almonds, raisins, carrots and water then head out a wilderness trail and find a place to read near a quiet lake. His daughter Pamela described Joe as a person who like to keep to himself, though seeing Joe at all the bee meetings and gatherings you would never guess Joe was not a social man, though in reality he enjoyed being alone. He hated small talk but loved a heated discussion especially if there was something new to learn. He enjoyed hiking and bicycle riding. He often took REI bike trips in the summer, he had also taken numerous bike trips with his daughter Pamela including trips to Hungary, Slovakia, Ireland and his last trip was across Scotland, Edinburgh to Glasgow.
Joe’s friends already miss him, I know I sure do. He is survived by his wife Nema; brother Michael Traynor; children Peri, Patrick Traynor and Pamela van der Poel; and six grandchildren: Patrick Jr., Christopher, Cosette, Jensen, Niki and Siena.