Mid-Valley beekeepers experience bee ‘calamity' firsthand
The honeybee shortage and bee losses have hit Mid-Valley beekeepers just like their industry brethren in the San Joaquin Valley.
Dennis Lohman, owner of Lohman Apiaries in Arbuckle, said late last week that he is down to about 3,500 hives from 6,000 hives last fall — a 42 percent loss.
"I'm a third-generation beekeeper, and I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Lohman.
"I am short of bees (to fulfill orders for growers)," he added. "Every beekeeper I know is short of bees. I've called friends all over the US — and they've all lost bees."
"It's a little bit of colony collapse disorder, but the main part for my bees, I believe, is from pesticides in the Dakotas, spraying for grasshoppers. There's lots of dead bees coming out of the Midwest," Lohman said. "There's been a drought back there, a bunch of stresses, viruses."
He keeps hives in the Dakotas from June to October for honey production, during which his bees were hit by crop-dusters spraying for grasshoppers without notice, he said.
The bee man said he heard of a case Friday in which 100 of 250 healthy hives went downhill over two weeks in a local almond orchard.
The price in the Mid-Valley is $150 per colony, according to Lohman. He has heard of the rental price of $200 in the San Joaquin Valley.
Beekeepers are currently setting bee boxes in the 85,000 bearing acres of almonds in the Mid-Valley.
Valeri Strachan-Severson, owner of Strachan Apiaries in Yuba City, is seeing higher survival and vigor rates than other beekeepers in the area.
She said her business has a little more than 9,000 hives, down from 10,000 in the fall — only a 10 percent drop.
"We're having a shortage. The bees we have look good, but we're having a huge shortage across the country," said Strachan-Severson.
"It doesn't look like colony collapse disorder," she added. "The cold snap (back east) was hard on bees. There was a lack of good forage in the fall because of the drought in the Midwest. We used a pollen substitute to feed the bees in June last year — usually we don't do that until September."
"We just finished putting in our last bees in, so we've managed to meet our obligations to growers," Strachan-Severson said. "In normal years, we have surplus that we rent out, but not this year."
The Yuba City beekeeper confirmed the $150 local price for hives, but she's heard of prices as high as $220 down south.
"People think bees are easy to get into, but the calamity we're having is going to separate the men from boys," said Lohman of Arbuckle, the center of almond country in Colusa County.
The high hive-rental prices do not comfort him much, he said, because it takes $250 to run a hive for a year, which includes truck fuel, labor, insurance, apiary medicines, bee food and the like.
Strachan-Severson agreed there is a bee catastrophe.
"This has been one of the worst years, not just for colony collapse disorder, but the lack of forage, the lack of a registered product to control varroa mites," she said.
She's heard some beekeepers have lost 80 percent of their colonies.
"That is devastating," she said, noting that is mostly migrating beekeepers from other parts of the country who bring their bees to California.
CONTACT Mike Hatamiya at 749-4777 or email@example.com.