In anticipation of next year’s almond bloom, more than 1.6 million honeybee colonies have begun entering California via trucks that pass through border protection stations. After hearing from beekeepers about extended delays at some border stations and limited access to water for their honeybees, the apiary and almond sectors have come up with solutions in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
To make a difference in time for almond bloom, the California State Beekeeper’s Association, Project Apis m. and the Almond Board of California each contributed $5,000 to upgrade water availability at border protection stations that receive the highest number of semitrailer loads of bee colonies. As a result, some border stations have increased the number of stationary faucets or hose bibs and spaced them the distance apart of a tractor-trailer, allowing truck drivers to hook up easily and provide water to the bees. Water keeps the colonies cool and encourages the bees to stay within the hives.
At the same time, the organizations have provided beekeepers with a set of best management practices, intended to help them pass California pest inspections and move through the border stations more efficiently.
“We have enough trouble as it is with colony collapse disorder and disappearing bees, so we just can’t afford to lose any more bees at the border stations,” said Project Apis m. Executive Director Christi Heinz. “Getting bees across the border is one thing we decided that we could improve on. We can hopefully decrease some of the transportation loss by working to smooth out the border issues.”
Beekeeper Jackie Park-Burris of Palo Cedro, who helped facilitate the improvements on behalf of beekeeper organizations, said the added access to water will help alleviate stress caused by heat and dehydration that honeybee colonies experience during transportation.
“We all have the same goal: to get the bees in here as timely as we can, yet as safe as we can. I understand how frustrating it is to beekeepers who are trying to haul bees in here, but agriculture is California’s green thumb and we have to protect our other commodities from unwanted pests and diseases,” Park-Burris said.
Between October and January each year, about 2,700 truckloads of bee colonies pass through any of the 16 CDFA border stations. Increased almond plantings have created greater demand for honeybee colonies for pollination, Park-Burris said.
“There has always been water at the stations and access to a hose, but because of the increased number of almond plantings and the need for more colonies, about two-thirds of the colonies are coming from out of state,” she said.
Watering system improvements have been installed at the stations in Blythe and Yermo, and CDFA is currently working on improving those at Vidal, Needles, Benton and Truckee.
Each year, Colorado beekeeper Lyle Johnston hauls about 130 semitrailer loads of bees into California in time for almond bloom. Most of the loads go through the border station at Needles, and some go through the Truckee station. A typical truckload contains about 400 beehives, which equates to about 2 million bees, Johnston said.
“Some of the inspection stations don’t have water, so it becomes a problem and if you get seven or eight semi loads tied up, not everybody’s going to get water. That’s been the problem. Whoever’s there first gets the water,” said Johnston, who also transports bees for fellow out-of-state beekeepers.
Now that there is an effort to add more hose bibs and with the best management practices being used, Johnston said, beekeepers are passing through border stations with less difficulty.
“I sent a load through Needles last week and the guys at the border called to thank us for doing such a good job. They said, ‘If everybody did this, our job would be so much easier,'” Johnston said. “It took about 30 minutes for them to inspect the truck and do the paperwork, which is ideal.”
Beekeepers say that it is up to beekeepers and the truckers hauling bees to inspect the loads before transporting, to avoid added delays at the state border.
“If you want to whiz through those border stations, then you want your truck, pallets and hives as clean as possible. If your load is clean, you can go right through. But if they find something, you have to wait until it can be identified,” Park-Burris said. “That’s why we preach, ‘Clean your load, clean your load, clean your load.’ That’s the bottom line.”
Matthew Pastell, area manager for CDFA northern border stations, said fewer than 10 percent of incoming bee shipments are rejected, either for live insects or noxious weeds.
“We’ve got cameras that are hooked up to a digital microscope and the photos are sent to the lab in Sacramento, where we have some of the best entomologists. Most shipments are cleared up within a few hours,” Pastell said.
Best management practices for transporting honeybee colonies recommended by Project Apis m. include:
- Remove skirts from semitrailer to facilitate inspection.
- Self-inspect colonies prior to shipment.
- Keep hives clean from soil, weeds and plant debris, and high-pressure wash if necessary.
- Arrive at the border station during business hours, when pests can be identified quickly.
- Obtain voluntary “ant free” certification in the state of origin.
- Outfit trucks with soaker hoses and carry additional hoses and sprinklers.
For more information on the best management practices, see http://www.projectapism.org.