Growers stung by beekeepers' apathy

10/23/2009 02:34:17 PM
Tom Burfield

LINDSAY, Calif. — Marauding bees have been turning supposedly seedless California mandarins into seeded ones, and there doesn’t seem to be much the citrus industry can do about it.

The increasing popularity of clementines in the fall and w. murcott mandarins in winter has resulted in a planting explosion.

But as acreage increases, isolating seedless mandarins from seeded ones and from bees that can cross pollinate them becomes more and more difficult. When that happens, the seedless fruit ends up with seeds, which makes it less valuable.

Part of the appeal of the easy-peel mandarins is that they are seedless, said Tom Wollenman, general manager of LoBue Bros. Inc., Lindsay.

When the seeds get out of hand, the fruit becomes difficult to eat, and growers and retailers no longer can command a premium for the mandarins.

California’s Department of Food and Agriculture has come out with regulations requiring beekeepers to register the location of hives. The regulations took effect this season and should be finalized with a year.

So far, they’ve accomplished little, grower-shippers say.

Citrus industry suggestions to help resolve the bee problem in California have fallen on deaf ears, said Joel Nelsen, president of the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual.

One suggestion was to reduce their numbers in areas where seedless mandarins are grown and relocate the bees so that they could access oranges and lemons. There is no cross-pollination problem with navels, valencias or lemons.

The citrus industry also volunteered to set up a bee food farm away from citrus where flowers would bloom in the springtime but where the bees could access food and nutrition, but that idea wasn’t accepted by beekeepers, either.

“That industry just isn’t cooperating with our producers,” Nelsen said. “It’s been disappointing that a solution couldn’t be worked out.”

“There’s a little bit of a rub between the beekeepers and the mandarin growers,” Wollenman said. “There’s a little friction.”
Citrus pollen is preferred for bees because it is rich in nutrients that bees need, he said.

Beekeepers often try to keep their hives in areas where navel or valencia oranges are grown and away from the mandarins, he said.

About all growers can do to try to mitigate the problem is to plant trees in isolation as much as possible or to cover their trees with netting, which keeps the bees at bay, said Fred Berry, director of marketing for Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove.

“But that’s an expensive proposition,” he said.

The cost of covering trees with nets has been estimated at $1,700 per acre, and yields are reported to be less than with uncovered trees.


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