California almonds and bees

Bee boxes are deployed in an almond orchard.

A new agreement between the California Almond Board and the Pollinator Partnership aims to improve habitat for bees, which are critical to the crop.

The San Francisco-based Pollinator Partnership announced it is working to integrate its Bee Friendly Farming certification program into the almond board's  sustainability program bee-health module.

“That is a potential 1 million-plus acres,” Ron Bitner, a Caldwell, Idaho-based bee scientist and vineyard operator who serves on the Pollinator Partnership board, said in an interview. He co-chairs the board’s Bee Friendly Farming Working Group.

Almond growers are large-scale users of honeybees — many of which are trucked in from around the U.S., which stresses the bees, he said.

But not all bees are honeybees.

Bitner said about two-thirds of the country’s bees nest in soil, and other bees use mud or mortar to build nests. Increasing habitat could benefit these bees as well as almond growers, who would gain additional access to free pollination.

“Growers would have access to more types of bees to provide pollination and take some pressure off honeybees,” he said.

“Our goal is to provide information about the importance of all kinds of pollinators, but because of the dependency of so many farms on bees for the pollination of fruit and seed crops, the Pollinator Partnership is putting a lot of emphasis on Bee Friendly Farming education,” Bitner said.

The Pollinator Partnership and the Almond Board of California Sustainability Program aim to increase the number of farmers taking steps to protect pollinators, and to recognize producers for best practices.

Farmers the partnership certifies as bee-friendly offer bee forage on 3% to 6% of their land, incorporate a continuous bloom of different flowering plants throughout the growing season, offer clean water for bees, provide nesting habitat, use integrated pest management and reduce or eliminate chemical usage.

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