New Ohio State University Research Confirms Importance of Almond Board’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices
New in the journal Insects confirms a key recommendation, and widely adopted farming practice, from the Almond Board of California’s Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs). Designed to protect honey bee health, the Bee BMPs are a set of guidelines for everyone involved in the pollination process to ensure almond orchards are a safe and welcoming place for honey bees while balancing the need to protect the developing crop.
With support from the Almond Board, study author and Ohio State University researcher Reed Johnson investigated the cause of reported hive losses in the spring of 2014, focusing on the interaction of pest control materials applied in almonds and bee health.
“Honey bees are essential to almond production,” said Bob Curtis, pollination consultant and retired director of Agricultural Affairs for the Almond Board of California. “Every almond we eat exists because a honey bee pollinated an almond blossom so it’s in farmers best interest to keep them safe. Our livelihood depends on it.”
The specific practices in question revolve around using insecticides during bloom, something the BMPs recommend avoiding as farmers can use alternative treatment timings to adequately control damaging pests outside of the bloom period.
The newly published Ohio State research validates this practice, one that almond farmers began instituting well before the results of this research were in, as protective of bee health. In fact, according to data gathered from farms assessed through the California Almond Sustainability Program, 97 percent report following all BMP recommendations during almond bloom.
Widespread change like this does not happen overnight. Upon the BMPs publication in October 2014, Almond Board staff, beekeepers, researchers, and others launched a substantial communications effort including a wide array of presentations to farmers and other pollination stakeholders.
The California almond community has funded more honey bee health research than any other crop group. Since honey bee health was made a strategic research priority of the Almond Board of California in 1995, the California almond community has supported 120 research projects to address the five major factors impacting honey bee health – varroa mites, pest and disease management, genetic diversity, pesticide exposure and balancing the need to protect both bees and the almond crop, and access to forage and nutrition. Seven new bee research studies were funded in 2018 with a commitment of $579,000 to improving honey bee health.
Given their essential role in pollination, almond farmers have a deep, vested interest in protecting honey bee health. The bees benefit from this partnership too. Just like almonds are a nutritious snack for us, almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees, providing all 10 of the essential amino acids their diets require. Bee hives routinely leave stronger after visiting during almond bloom.