Date of this Version
Journal of Economic Entomology, 112(6), 2019, 2524–2533
Commercial honey bee (Apis mellifera L.) colonies significantly contribute to agricultural productivity through crop pollination. Almond production requires the most colonies because there are more than a million acres of orchards that require cross-pollination for nut set. With the rising costs of managing and transporting colonies to almond orchards combined with the high colony losses beekeepers routinely experience, we asked if renting colonies for almond pollination was profitable. We conducted a longitudinal study on 190 colonies from their establishment in April until they were placed in almond orchards 10 mo later. In the fall, equal numbers of colonies were placed either in cold storage (CS) facilities or in outdoor apiaries for the winter. We found that the cost of overwintering colonies in CS was lower than in apiaries, but CS did not reduce overwintering losses. A key finding from our study is that there is little or no profit in renting colonies for almond pollination once summer management and overwintering costs are considered. Our only profitable venture was honey production in the summer. We propose alternative management strategies to lower costs and make almond pollination profitable. We also developed a decision tool for selecting colonies to overwinter in CS and reduce expenditures on those that will not reach sufficient size for almond pollination. Our study exposes the unsustainable financial burden experienced by migratory beekeepers that is not included in estimates of yearly colony losses, and underscores the urgent need for forage plantings to generate revenue from honey and improve overwinter survival.