California verdict still out on bees versus mandarin rules

06/03/2009 06:12:00 PM
Don Schrack

FRESNO, Calif. — The 2009 mandarin bloom is over. It was the first bloom under new regulations designed to enable beekeepers and mandarin orange growers to coexist.

"The regs did nothing to solve the problem," said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter. "They were a total disappointment."

The problem: cross-pollination between seeded and seedless varieties. The seedless mandarins tend to grow seeds when bees visit both varieties.

After more than a year of meetings involving growers and beekeepers, the California Department of Food and Agriculture implemented a set of voluntary draft regulations that, among other things, required mandarin growers to register the locations of their groves by the end of January and beekeepers to register hive locations by March 1. The regulations apply only to the state's largest citrus growing counties: Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kern.

"The comment period on those regulations expired April 13," said Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the state agency. "We're now evaluating those comments to determine whether any changes are needed."

A decision on changes, if any, could come in a few months, but state guidelines permit up to a year before the decision must be made, Lyle said. Whatever the decision, some mandarin grower-shippers are still seething.

"This wasn't a citrus industry-wide movement," said Roger Everett, vice president of the California State Beekeepers Association Inc., Hughson, and owner of Terra Bella Honey Co. Inc., Terra Bella. "It was more or less two large corporations, Paramount and Sun Pacific."

                                                              Don Schrack

Netted mandarin trees owned by Fowler Packing Co. Inc., Fowler, Calif., on company acreage near Fresno. The annual cost of the netting and the labor to install and remove the material is projected to approach $800 per acre, says a spokesman for Fowler Packing.


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