What do almonds and bees have in common? Nothing to the average consumer. But commercial beekeepers in California — where 80% of the world’s almond supply is produced according to the the Almond Board of California’s Almond Almanac — see the almond industry as vital to keeping their businesses alive.
And it may have negative effects for bees.
The demand for almond milk has jumped by over 250% in the past five years, reports The Cut. The demand is so high that California beekeeper Dennis Arp told the Guardian he makes more than half his income from renting his hives out to almond groves. But in December he started to notice the practice was having a negative effect on his bees, and he wasn’t the only one.
Beekeepers who loaned their bee colonies to almond farms were seeing record high bee deaths upon their return, according to the Cut.
And that number may be as high as 50 billion bees just this winter, Delish reports.
Patrick Pynes, a beekeeper who teaches environmental studies at Northern Arizona University, told the Guardian the bees in almond groves were being “exploited and disrespected.”
Senior scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, Nate Donley, likened sending the bees to almond groves to sending soldiers off to war.
“The high mortality rate creates a sad business model for beekeepers,” he told The Guardian. “It’s like sending the bees to war. Many don’t come back.”
But why are the almond farms so bad for bees? Scientific American reports that focusing on just almonds, or just any other one crop for that matter, prevents bees from getting the diversity of nutrients they need to be healthy, which makes them more vulnerable to disease and pesticides.
The practice also requires beekeepers to pull their bees out of hibernation two months early, People magazine reported.
This is the latest in a list of concerns for the bees, which have been suffering from a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder since 2006, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The EPA is taking steps to preserve bee populations, but despite the efforts recorded the highest ever winter bee losses in 2018, according to a University of Maryland study published in Science Daily. The study found that beekeepers in 2019 lost over 40% of their colonies.