NPR alerts us to a startling fact: Beehive thefts are increasing at alarming rates, with 1,734 hive thefts in this year’s almond pollination season in California alone. Hundreds more are stolen from other locations and/or other crops.
When most people think of bees, they think of honey – but the thefts aren’t related to honey at all. For many crops, pollination is essential each year, and though it can be done mechanically or by hand, it turns out that by far the most efficient method for certain crops is nature’s original farmer: the bee. Almost three times as much income comes from renting beehives for pollination as comes from honey, according to Mother Jones.
Natural populations of bees aren’t enough to pollinate some of these crops, most notably California’s almond crop. Even in the past, before the mass death of bees, almond growers would import beehives to be placed throughout their groves. Roughly 2 million beehives, says NPR, are required for California’s almonds – about two per acre.
But this year is not a normal year for bees; with more than 44 percent of colonies lost last year, beehives are at a premium. The cost to rent a beehive has steadily risen in the past few years, now up to about $200 per hive from closer to $50 per hive a decade ago. But the almond growers have no choice: without the bees, they have no crops.
Those high prices and panicky demand make the beehives a natural target for theft. What makes this theft unusual is that, well, not just any opportunistic Danny Ocean can smuggle out a beehive: It takes expertise to understand how to properly move and care for a hive, and it also takes connections with farmers to actually have a buyer. NPR’s take, from a California bee broker (a real job, amazingly)? It’s beekeepers themselves behind the thefts.
Almond producers are increasingly turning to technology – surveillance cameras, GPS tagging – to monitor their rented hives, but it’s not easy to monitor millions of acres of trees. It’s bad news for everyone: beekeepers lose their hives (meaning lost revenue from the rentals, plus lost revenue from the honey at the end of the season), farmers have to rent again or may have trouble even finding hives, and the cost of everything goes up.
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