As one of the world’s largest almond growers, ofi has a deep understanding of the responsibility associated with sustainable farming practices. As an organization, ofi has committed to growing with a positive environmental impact footprint, and as part of this effort, we are proud to protect and promote pollinator health in our bee-friendly orchards.
Auburn University Assistant Professor and Extension Economist Brittany Goodrich writes, “Roughly 1 million acres of almond trees collectively bloom over a three-week period every February, creating spectacular scenic views but also putting enormous pressure on the farmers to pollinate them quickly. Each almond acre requires roughly two honeybee hives, each of which typically houses one colony of about 20,000 bees. With 2 million hives needed, that’s well more than half of the total U.S. hive population.”
At ofi, we use evidence-based, field-tested actions, coupled with transparent and trustworthy processes to improve pollinator well-being, as we know firsthand how vital pollinators are to producing over 30% of all human food. In 2020, the Almond Board of California’s Pollinator Partnership Certification set forth an aggressive and impactful mission to focus on protecting and promoting bee-health. ofi has received bee-friendly certifications for 75% of our orchards, by following the guidelines set forth by the Almond Board of California and their pollinator partners.
We met with Zac Ellis, ofi’s Senior Director of Agronomy, to learn more about the importance of bees in the almond industry, the steps ofi is taking to ensure safe environments for the pollinators, and our relationship with our beekeepers and brokers.
Q: Can you explain the important relationship between bees and almond trees?
A: Since most almond varieties are not self-compatible, meaning they cannot pollinate themselves; they need a different variety nearby that is compatible. Therefore, there are multiple varieties in each almond orchard. Further, the pollen must be moved from the flower anther to a reproductively mature stigma of another variety. The only way this is accomplished is with bees through a symbiotic relationship. The almond flowers provide a reward in the form of nectar for the bees. As the bees search for the nectar, its body is covered in pollen. Then, when the bee moves to the next variety, that pollen is transferred to the stigma of another flower and begins the pollination process.
Q: How does ofi ensurethe safety of the bees in our orchards?
A: Focusing on creating a safe environment for our pollinators is a top priority. We are Pollinator Partnership certified through the Almond Board of California on 75% of our orchards, on track to get to 100% by 2023. In being certified, we ensure that we plant both annual and perennial blooming cover crops on our ranches, provide a clean water source during pollination, only spray at night when the bees are safe in their hives, and eliminate all harmful pesticides including neonicotinoids, pyrethroids, non-ionic surfactants and any other harmful chemicals during bloom. We are also investing in new pollinator health technologies, like automated beehives and bee health monitors.
Q: What is the process of renting bees?
A: We have many long-standing relationships with beekeepers and brokers, who rent us hives at a pre-determined rate that is based on bee colony strength (frames per hive). We typically keep the bees for approximately six weeks, then they are moved at night when they are in the hives to other crops that also need bees for pollination. We use a bee inspector to ensure we are using the highest quality of bees from our keepers and brokers.
As we prepare to release our upcoming Almond Trail, a public document sharing our sustainability goals specific to almond growing and production, ofi has committed to healthier ecosystems and protecting biodiversity. We provide more nutrients, carbon, beneficial insects, and organic matter into the ecosystem, versus what we use during production and practice sustainable, cost-effective farming practices. We safeguard biodiversity by creating environments that are welcoming to bees and other insects. Not only are we one of leading almond growers in the world, but we also strive to be the leaders of sustainability at our orchards.
Did you know these facts about ofi and bees?
- Our Nevada Ranch in Le Grand, Calif. provides 1,000 acres of bee-friendly almonds
- 5% of our almond acreage is dedicated to pollinator habitats
- We provide fresh, cold-water sources for bees to drink from and cool themselves while pollinating
- Absolutely NO neonicotinoids used on our orchards
- We have spatial and vegetative buffers to protect pollinators from pesticides
- Our bee-friendly habitats provide a healthy food-source for pre- and post-bloom.
Goodrich, B. (2022). A bee economist explains honey bees' vital role in growing tasty almonds. Retrieved 11 May 2022, from https://theconversation.com/a-bee-economist-explains-honey-bees-vital-role-in-growing-tasty-almonds-101421ABC Partners with Largest NGO Dedicated to Pollinators. (2022). Retrieved 11 May 2022, from https://www.almonds.com/almond-industry/industry-news/abc-partners-largest-ngo-dedicated-pollinators#:~:text=On%20Jan.,their%20ecosystems%3A%20the%20Pollinator%20Partnership.&text=(Jan.,%2C%202020)%20%E2%80%93%20On%20Jan