Almonds are heavily dependent on bees for pollination. Almond farmers like Mike Doherty of Colusa County, just north of Sacramento, bring in hives from as far away as Texas, Florida, and North Dakota.
Doherty farms about 800 acres of almonds for Blue Diamond. He says the cost of renting commercial beehives to pollinate his almond trees has grown so much that it’s now one of his biggest expenses.
“Oh, of course I’m worried about that. But I’m also worried there won’t be enough water in the future. There won’t be enough employees in the future. I’m worried about that,” Doherty said. “A farmer worries every day. I get up in the morning worrying. I go to bed worrying. That’s what we do.”
And there’s a lot of fruits, veggies, and nuts to worry about. According to the UN, the volume of agricultural production dependent on pollinators has increased by 300% in the last 50 years.
Interstate highways built in the 1950s and ‘60s made it much easier to move bees around, meaning bees could take lots of business trips. And over time, wild and native bees that were once adequate enough for farming were pushed aside, says Mace Vaughn, who co-directs the Pollinator Program at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
This shrinking of uncultivated lands is even worse for wild bees. Instead of the cover crops farmers used to plant to replenish their soil in the off season, most today have switched to synthetic fertilizers. Row crops replace wild plants, which means no flowers and no food for bees.
Vaughn says just even planting a small strip of wildflowers around the edge of fields or orchards could draw in native bee populations and decrease the need for commercial pollinators. But even if farmers are successful at putting more bee habitat back into the landscape, he says commercial pollinators like honeybees are simply too vital to think about abandoning altogether.
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