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Tree fruit growers in the Pacific Northwest can expect an adequate supply of bees for pollination in 2007, says a commercial beekeeper.

"I doubt there will be a short supply in 2007," predicted Jeff Lunden, scientific assistant at Washington State University’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center at Prosser. Lunden is also a tree fruit grower and owner of Corral Creek Pollinators in Benton City, Washington.

Lunden shared some of the challenges faced by beekeepers and discussed practical pollination parameters during the annual meeting of the Cherry Institute held in Yakima, Washington.

Varroa mite continues to be a problem for beekeepers due to miticide resistance developed by the mite. Varroa mites lay eggs on developing bee larvae, causing death from deformities in the newly hatched bees. Lunden said that because of resistance, the bee industry is on its third class of chemicals and must now treat the hives three times a year.

Tracheal mite, once a major problem, is not the issue now that it once was because bees have developed resistance to the mite and beekeepers routinely treat hives for it.

A challenge on the horizon is small hive beetle, an insect that is transported on bee equipment. The beetle lays eggs in the honeycombs, which ferments the honey and turns it into a "stinking mess." He said that the pest has primarily been a problem in the south, but states are implementing quarantines against the pest. Some loads in California were recently rejected because of small hive beetle, he noted.

Supply

With 173,000 acres of apples and 36,000 acres of cherries in Washington State, tree fruit growers typically use around 350,000 hives each year for pollination. He explained that supply of hives is not usually a problem because there are about one million hives located in northwestern states, from North and South Dakota westward. Many of the hives used for almond pollination in California come from the Dakotas.

"Fortunately for us in the Northwest, it’s a natural move for Dakota beekeepers as they go back home to come here," he said. "It’s still too cold at their own home, so they come here."

But cherry pollination in the Northwest can be challenged if the almond bloom in California is late, delaying the arrival of hives and creating logistical problems. High honey prices can also affect tree fruit pollination in the Northwest because beekeepers may choose to take their hives home to cash in on honey money. Additionally, poor weather in the Midwest the previous summer, such as a drought, can translate into smaller bee populations.

Lunden noted that supply has not been a problem in the past in the Pacific Northwest, even when California almond growers have scrambled to find beehives. "For apple pollination, Washington only needs about one-tenth of the U.S. supply of bees. California needs about one million hives from a total supply of 2.4 million."