UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Brittney Goodrich, Jeffrey Williams and Rachael Goodhue publish study on “The Great Bee Migration” in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics

Dec. 18, 2019

Every winter, most honey bee colonies in the U.S. are loaded onto semi-trucks and shipped to California to pollinate almond orchards. Without this mass migration of honey bee colonies (and their beekeepers), California’s 1.2 million almond acres would not be able to produce the billions of pounds of almonds that world consumers enjoy every year. As almond acreage has increased, pollination fees that almond growers pay to beekeepers have increased, though not enough to incentivize the expansion of existing beekeeping operations. So colonies have had to be shipped from further and further away to meet the demand for almond pollination services—now coming from as far as New York and Florida. Almond growers have seen their pollination expenses increase substantially since the early 2000s, yet almond acreage continues increasing and with it the demand for honey bee colonies. Already utilizing a majority of the colonies in the U.S., almond growers are concerned with where additional colonies will come from and how much their pollination expenses will increase in the coming years.

This paper presents estimates of the responsiveness of colony shipments from each state to changes in the pollination fee. We combine colony shipment data from 2007 to 2018 provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture with projected prices from the California State Beekeeper’s Association pollination fee survey.

Beekeepers in the eastern U.S. have hesitated to participate in almond pollination due to relatively high transportation costs and the potential for local honey production. We find that at the time of almond bloom, they are most responsive to almond pollination fee increases. It appears that beekeepers in areas with low transportation costs have supplied all available colonies, and increases in almond pollination fees have little effect on getting additional colonies from these areas. We estimate that Florida, Georgia, and Texas had the largest number of colonies that did not participate in almond pollination in 2017, so almond growers can look to beekeepers in these states to supply additional colonies, though fees may have to increase to gain their participation.

This research provides important information to California almond growers regarding their future pollination supply and expenses. The California market for almond pollination services is the largest market for pollination services in the world. Past research has shown that the world’s demand for honey bee pollination services of crops is growing faster than the supply of honey bee colonies (Aizen and Harder, 2009). What we have learned in this research can be applied to other pollination markets as the demand for honey bee pollination services increases all over the world.

Read the full article here.


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