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 Are Your Delicious, Healthy Almonds Killing Bees? 
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Post Are Your Delicious, Healthy Almonds Killing Bees?
—By Tom Philpott

| Tue Apr. 29, 2014 3:00 AM PDT

California dominates almond production like Saudi Arabia wishes it dominated oil. More than 80 percent of the almonds consumed on Planet Earth hail from there. Boosted by surging demand from China—overall, 70 percent of the state's output is exported—California's almond groves are expanding. The delicious nut's acreage grew 25 percent between 2006 and 2013. In a previous post, I noted how almond boom is helping fuel potentially disastrous water-pumping frenzy in a drought-stricken state.

Now comes more unsettling news: California's almond groves are being blamed for a large recent honeybee die-off.

What do almond trees have to do with honeybees? It turns out that when you grow almond trees in vast monocrops, pollination from wild insects doesn't do the trick. Each spring, it takes 1.6 million honeybee hives to pollinate the crop—about a million of which must be trucked in from out of state. Altogether, the crop requires the presence of a jaw-dropping 60 percent of the managed honeybees in the entire country, the US Department of Agriculture reports.

A mutual dependence has arisen between the state's almond growers and the nation's apiaries. For the 1,500 beekeepers who deliver "pollination services" to the almond industry each year, the gig provides 60 percent of their annual income—more lucrative, in other words, than selling the honey they produce, reports the Bakersfield Californian, a newspaper in the heart of almond country. "Without the almond industry, the bee industry wouldn't exist," one large-scale beekeeper told the paper in February.

But this year, something has gone wrong. According to the Pollinator Stewardship Council, somewhere between 15 percent and 25 percent of the beehives in almond groves suffered "severe" damage during the bloom, ranging from complete hive collapse to dead and deformed brood (the next generation of bees incubating in the hive).

Eric Mussen, a bee expert at the University of California-Davis since 1976, told me that there have been isolated die-offs on recent years, but this year's troubles have been "much more widespread .. the worst we've ever seen."

The Pollinator Stewardship Council blames the cocktail of pesticides—insecticides and fungicides—almond growers use to keep their crops humming, and Mussen thinks the group may have a point.

Adjuvants inhibit bees' ability to learn how to forage, compromising the long-term health of the hive.

He told me that several years ago, beekeepers in almond-heavy Glenn County began having problems keeping their brood alive, as well as with developing new queens. They began to fear that the trouble came from a widely used fungicide called Pristine, marketed by the German chemical giant BASF, for almonds. The company, which claims Pristine is harmless to bees, sent representatives to the county to collect almond pollen samples. In them, Mussen told me, they found "significant" levels of an insecticide called diflubenzuron. (Here's a copy of an email from January 2013 that Mussen circulated on the topic.) The catch is that its maker, Chemtura, insists that diflubenzuron, too, is harmless to bees.

If the two pesticides are safe for bees on their own, what's the problem? Mussen says that almond growers are combining them along with substances called adjuvants—which are used to enhance the performance of pesticides—and then spraying the resulting cocktail on crops. "It now seems that when you roll these three things together, it has very negative consequences on the bees," Mullen told me.

Read more here:

Don't know if this topic really belongs here or not. I will be happy to move it.

It seems to me that anytime we factory farm any crop - we wind up with disasterous consequences. We didn't learn from swine flu or avian flu and now we are pumping water at an alarming rate and killing honeybees.


The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

Tue Apr 29, 2014 7:49 am
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