Friday, February 19, 2016 by: L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
(NaturalNews) As the second week of February begins, so has California’s almond growing season. During this crucial time of preparation, 1.8 million commercial honey beehives are brought in to the state to help pollinate the 800,000 acres of almonds. The $6 billion California almond industry wouldn’t exist if honeybees weren’t brought in from around the US. 90 percent of all the commercial beehives colonized in the US are rented out to the California almond industry each year. Commercial hives are brought in from Michigan to Idaho. Some hives are trucked in all the way from the East Coast. As the pollinators continue to die off each year, it’s becoming harder and more expensive to sustain important crops such as the almonds.
Hundreds of honeybee hives stolen in California
To make matters worse, counties in California are now reporting that mass beehive thefts are on the rise. Butte County Sheriff’s Detective, Jay Freeman, says the bee hive thefts have been “picking up this year” which “could be due to the increased prices and pollination fees and also a shortage of bees coming into California as well.” At least a half dozen thefts have been reported in Glenn, Kern, Colusa and Sutter counties. In Butte county, the thefts have become a big deal. According to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office, “information that over 500 beehives have been reported stolen in two separate incidents which took place in two neighboring counties over the last two weeks.”
The Feb. 2 memo revealed that 480 hives were stolen in Butte and Colusa County alone. 64 of the hives were valued at $20,000. “We lost a couple hundred hives in Bakersfield,” said beekeeper Jack Wickerd, co-owner of the Happie Bee Co. “They were wintering out in a field. There were more than 400 hives stolen the night before at another location before they took ours.”
The commercial markings on the honeybee boxes are disregarded, as thieves move the bees to new crates and sell them to brokers who do not check if the bees are stolen. According to ground reports, the thieves have got to be desperate beekeepers whose honeybee colonies have died off. The disgruntled thieves use flatbed trucks and forklifts to snatch the hives in the middle of the night, when the colonies are resting.
Price of honeybee hives has jumped five-fold in 14 years
As the commercial almond acreage increases in California, and as the honeybee colonies collapse, the demand for honeybees has gone up, and now beekeepers are charging more than ever for pollination fees. Almond growers now spend $200 or more to rent out a single beehive. Twelve years ago, the price was only a fifth of that. The prices will continue to climb as hive thefts escalate.
Joy Pendell, spokesperson for the California State Beekeepers Association, said, “The thievery problem is getting totally out of hand. The number might be pushing 1,000 (beehives).” On January 18, Sutter County Sheriff Lt. Bruce Hutchinson reported 300 boxes of beehives had been stolen from one farm, a loss totaling $98,000. The theft of 200 beehives might be a $36,000 loss up front, but the damage is often three times worse, when growers factor in what the bees could have made pollinating crops.
Pendell says, “Brokers are looking the other way and don’t want to know if those hives are stolen. There are newcomers to the industry because of the prices.” The California State beekeepers Association is now offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of bee thieves.
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