Cultivars may reduce need for bees
There's no way to predict the impact of self-pollinating almond trees on beekeepers.
Should the new cultivars take hold, growers could probably get by with only one colony per acre, not two, said California beekeeper and ag consultant Joe Traynor.
Bees will still be needed to "move the pollen around a little bit, maybe a few millimeters," he said. He doesn't see a major impact for five to 10 years.
University of California-Davis Extension apiarist Eric Mussen said that it's too early to tell what effect the trees will have on beekeepers.
"I don't think we're going to see if the proof is in the pudding until the time the trees are up, producing a crop, and they try to integrate that crop into the rest of the crop to see if it's acceptable in the market," Mussen said. "It should be because as I understand it, it's supposed to be a good nut, supposed to taste good and size right. But you really don't know until you throw it out there commercially."
Traynor said that California almond acreage is "closing in on 800,000," and that around 1.5 million colonies were needed to pollinate the 750,000-acre 2011 crop.
"We're lucky if we can get 500,000 of our own (California hives) into the picture," said Mussen.
Northwest beekeepers can make good money in almond orchards, with 2011 rental prices ranging from $120 to $130 for 4- to 6-frame colonies to $190 for 10-frame colonies.
Traynor said the record 2011 almond crop is expected to come in at around 1.75 billion pounds.
-- John Schmitz