"Every year's a bit different. Bee pressures can vary," he said. "It has to do with weather, the timing of the bloom, where the orchards are located and what crops are grown around them."
For whatever reason, overall seediness was down last season compared to previous years, Berry said. Mulholland Citrus did net some groves this year, he said, but it is too early to tell whether the netting kept the bees from the mandarins.
Orange blossom honey superior
The citrus industry is vital to the beekeepers, because there is a difference in the taste of honey depending on the floral source, Everett said.
"My premium honey crop every year is my citrus honey," he said. "There are about 300,000 hives in the citrus belt."
The citrus belt runs roughly 150 miles from Arvin in the south to Madera in the north.
The bee-versus-mandarin controversy has hit some beekeepers in the wallet. DeHaven Apiaries lost five locations when the major growers threatened legal action against landowners of beehive sites and beekeepers, DeHaven said. Other landowners remained loyal.
"With very few exceptions, I've been on every location I sit on for 15 years or more," he said.
There is some debate whether fruit set is variable depending on whether there are bees in the area, Everett said. There will be fruit on the trees regardless of the presence of bees, he said.
Tango acreage increasing
The resolution to the conflict appears to be the tango, a seedless mandarin orange developed by University of California researchers and released to the industry in late 2006. The tango is rarely affected by cross-pollination.
"When the tango comes into more prominence, the netting should not be a factor," Berry said.
That is little consolation to mandarin growers, who may need to pull their groves and replace the trees with tangos, an expensive undertaking.