It’s a fact that most fruit and nut trees rely on cross pollination of their blossoms to produce fruit. This pollination is accomplished by the symbiotic relationship between sweet blossoms and nectar-seeking honeybees. The single most important factor to determine a good yield is the pollination that comes from honeybees. The National Resource Defense Council provides some great facts on “Why we need Bees”.
But what happens when there aren’t enough honeybees to do the job? What happens to our food supply when more honeybee colonies collapse?
We are starting to feel the ramifications and our beloved almonds are just the beginning.
The global almond wholesale market, a mainstay for confectioners and cereal-makers, is worth about $5 Billion. Almond orchards in California, which account for 80 per cent of the world’s crop, require 1.5 million beehives every year to achieve this epic yield. California beekeepers alone cannot supply this critical need, so millions of honey bees are transported across the country to the San Joaquin Valley each spring. Despite this great migration there weren’t enough honeybees last year to properly pollinate the almond crop. Beekeepers reported record-breaking honeybee losses of more than 40% just last season alone!
Now it’s the buyers and sellers of almonds who are feeling the loss of honeybees as the prices of almond snacks and almond sweets rise sharply higher. As California’s almond orchards are hit by a decline in bee colonies, up goes the price of almonds. The wholesale price of almonds has reached an eight year high, with the figure expected to continue to rise as honey bee populations’ decrease. California almond growers are also feeling the pinch with lower yields. Without bees, there are no almonds. California growers have been promoting almonds for years and one farmer indicated they now need to start promoting bees!
Chances are more of our food will be affected until we solve this dilemma. Estimates are that 30% of our food is produced with the help of pollinators and 50% of all items in the produce department depend on pollination– everything from apples to zucchini. Last spring Whole Foods Market made a drastic display of how honeybee survival affects our food supply. The University Heights Whole Foods Market store in Providence RI removed all produce that comes from plants dependent on honeybees and other pollinators. You can view the shocking pictures here to visualize what would happen if the honeybees disappeared completely.
Science tells us there are multiple factors contributing to the honeybee dilemma. Certain toxic pesticides play a clear and present role, according to a report published by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). The report concluded that a class of pesticides known as Neonicotinoids posed an acutely high risk to pollinators. The European Union has taken proactive action and imposed a 2 year ban on these pesticides, beginning in December 2013. In North America, Greenpeace launched a grassroots campaign urging the EPA to impose a similar moratorium in the US. You can also sign The Center for Food Safety letter urging the leader of EPA to suspend the indiscriminate use of toxic pesticides.
Because Organic Agriculture does not allow these toxic pesticides, the single most important thing you can do is to buy and eat organic products. The second most important thing you can do is urge all your friends, family members and loved ones to do the same. Let’s keep our pollinators healthy and our almonds available for everyone to eat.