California sets rules to resolve bee dispute

01/20/2009 12:00:00 AM
Dawn Withers

(Jan. 20, 1:27 p.m.) In an attempt to end a dispute between California’s beekeepers and citrus growers, the California Department of Food and Agriculture is coming out with rules to help both industries decide where bees should be located.

Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, which represents about 2,000 citrus growers throughout the state, claims lucrative seedless clementine tangerines and mandarin oranges are being ruined by bees that cross pollinate the seedless fruit with seeded citrus varieties.

California Citrus Mutual president Joel Nelsen said seeds are present in 35% of the seedless crop, which means growers are either getting lower prices or having to dump their fruit altogether. There are about 28,000 acres of the seedless citrus in California, Nelsen said.

“It’s going to get worse and the smaller growers will suffer the consequences,” he said.

CDFA plans to release a proposal in February that would serve as a framework for dialogue and planning for citrus growers and beekeepers on where hives should be located, said department of agriculture director of public affairs Steve Lyle.

“We’ve been working on the draft with industry groups for about a year,” Lyle said.

The regulations would apply in Kern, Tulare, Fresno and Madera counties in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and would not require beekeepers to move hive locations.

Currently, beekeepers are required to register the location of their hives with county agricultural commissioners, Lyle said.

Gene Brandi, legislative chairman with the California State Beekeepers Association, said a working group was organized in January 2007 among citrus grower and beekeepers, and they came to consensus on a proposal similar to the CDFA’s plan.

Citrus growers, Brandi said, have only themselves to blame because of how closely they planted citrus with seeds next to the seedless varieties.

“Honey bees have co-existed with citrus in California for over 100 years,” Brandi said.

However, Nelsen said there was no agreement reached within the group because of the beekeepers’ unwillingness to compromise their access to citrus groves, claiming they are protected by right to farm laws.

After a public comment period and possible modifications, the regulations go into effect, Lyle said.

Nelsen said most varieties of citrus do not need bees for pollination but longstanding farming practices allow beekeepers to access citrus groves in California’s Central Valley. Before seedless varieties became popular about eight years ago, Nelsen said, there was no problem with bees visiting the citrus blooms in late winter and early spring.


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