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almond farms and bees

 
Gail Saito
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It is common knowledge that most of the almond orchards in CA are monocultures. They truck in bees, often as far away as NY, to pollinate their trees, thus taking a tremendous toll on the bees. Why do they not transform their orchards into polycultures? Would this eliminate the need to truck in the bees? Is water the issue? Your thoughts, please.
 
John Elliott
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Polycultures require thinking. Monoculture farming minimizes the amount of facts that a farmer has to stuff in his head to have a successful crop. As long as he can focus on one plant, life is a whole lot simpler. When he can subcontract his pollination to a bee rancher, that another way he can simplify. If someone developed a chemical he could spray on his crop so that all the almonds would drop at 2pm on the 14th of November, that would simplify his life even more and he would pay big bucks for such a chemical.

Farmers are like the majority of people -- they only want to focus on one thing at a time. There are people that can think of two things at one time; they are called scientists. They like to find relationships between two things, but only two things. If they can solve a problem in several variables by considering it as a sum of pair-wise interactions, they are OK. But if they are presented with multiple parameters and multiple variables (as is usually the case in a polyculture), they get frustrated and behave like a toddler when his favorite toy is taken away. Permaculture deals with multiple plants with multiple needs with multiple pests and multiple diseases that ripen at multiple times. What Nature has devised as a robust system to deal with any eventuality man treats as too haphazard to be economically feasible.

Being a permaculturalist and dealing with polycultures is a humbling experience. There is always a surprise in store. Farmers hate surprises. They borrow money from the bank based on their previous experience, and maybe get some crop insurance to protect against bad surprises. There are farmers in the upper Midwest that are looking at a third planting of soybeans this year -- the first two plantings drowned from the heavy rains. Even before the beans emerge from the ground, they are in a hole compared to previous years.

Almond farmers have gone so far down the road to monoculture, that it is difficult to see the way out. They have their trees planted and drip line irrigated at precise distances. Mostly to make it easy to harvest their amonds when they drive a truck through the field to shake the 'l' out of them. What would they crop with their trees? Alfalfa? Clover? That might support enough bees to make it worthwhile to have hives in permanent residence. If you could show that the income from almonds+honey+cut forage was worth the investment, it would still take an adventurous farmer to undertake the investment.

 
R Scott
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Everything John said plus WATER!!! They are growing on purchased water, which is unsustainable to begin with.

Polyculture brings resiliency if you plan so only one of your umpteen crops has to do good to break even. But that is hard to wrap you mind around.
 
Gail Saito
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Thank you, John. Great information and thoughts. I believe it is a mindset. It would take an adventurous farmer to "go out on a limb" and try something different. I like the idea of clover and perhaps wildflowers, as well. And really, what would they have to lose? In the long run, perhaps worthwhile.
 
John Polk
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They truck in bees, often as far away as NY,

I think that you are grossly underestimating the scope of their stupidity.
Trucking in from NY? Have you seen the pictures of 747s coming in from Australia with bee hives packed into the cargo bays? There aren't enough healthy hives left in the U.S. to take care of the spring pollination. With seasons reversed in the southern hemisphere, the southern bees can make a quick stop in California before the U.S. hives get built up to strength each spring.

 
Gail Saito
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Change comes about with knowledge and the desire, not by pointing the finger and calling people stupid. ...lots of negative energy around the word stupid! Call me an optimist.
 
Dawn Hoff
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I think you are right Gail - I think the farmers are scared and stuck in this system, and they would love to see a way out - but the way the organic market works, that is a big risk to take (four years of smaller income before you are certified). Most of them have never heard if permaculture, and those who have think Mandala gardens and unicorns when they hear the word. They have no idea how to escape the debt trap they are in, so they just continue.
 
William James
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Gail Saito wrote:Why do they not transform their orchards into polycultures?


The million dollar question. The 2 cent answer is easy: they don't do it because they can't and don't want to anyway.

They can't: many farmers are indebted. They owe money and so they can't be spending hella cash on transforming their orchard. The only way to speak to those people is via easing-in good usda-approved cultivation strategies, which include windbrakes, silvopasture, ally-cropping between tree stands, cover-cropping, rotational grazing, and the like. SARE.org is a good outlet with lots of research to promote good ag strategies that veer toward permaculture. The book restoration agriculture is a good jumping-off point for this.

They don't want to: polycultures are more difficult to manage, your friends aren't doing it, nobody is out there making the big bucks doing it, you have to totally rethink how you harvest, the usda or any other official entity including for-profit businesses are certainly not pushing polyculture as a solution to a myriad of problems. So you get a kind of group-think that is out there doing what you see being done. I don't blame them, if I were in their shoes I might be thinking the same thing.

Kind of a gordian knot, if you ask me. I have the feeling that once you have 3-5 major companies making lots of money doing something permaculture-esque, you'll see people clamoring to get on the boat. Until then permaculture will be just a bunch of hippy-nonsense to them.
William
 
John Elliott
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R Scott wrote:Everything John said plus WATER!!! They are growing on purchased water, which is unsustainable to begin with.

Polyculture brings resiliency if you plan so only one of your umpteen crops has to do good to break even. But that is hard to wrap you mind around.


Actually, the water problem being picked up by the news media is a tractable problem. Almonds are desert trees. They don't NEED as much water as they are being irrigated with. I base my statement on an almond tree I observed in a vacant lot in Las Vegas. It would bloom, and have a nice crop of nuts in the fall, and it was getting no extra attention. In Las Vegas. With an annual rainfall of 4" a year. I suspect it was stealing some water from the occupied house next door, through its root system, but that couldn't have been a whole lot more than it was getting naturally.

I think these almond farmers need to bone up on their water harvesting and desert hugelkultur methods if they want to stay in the same line of work.
 
Dawn Hoff
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We have almonds and very little water, i don't understand that they are irrigated in some places - but then again, I've seen olives irrigated here in Spain
 
Michael Qulek
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Gail Saito wrote:It is common knowledge that most of the almond orchards in CA are monocultures. They truck in bees, often as far away as NY, to pollinate their trees, thus taking a tremendous toll on the bees. Why do they not transform their orchards into polycultures? Would this eliminate the need to truck in the bees? Is water the issue? Your thoughts, please.

Virtually all commercial orchards are monoculture! Vitually all crops are monoculture! When was the last time you saw a crop field that was interplanted in wheat, tomatoes, and green beans? Today's farmers rely on mechanized equipment to do everything, and you can't intercrop widely divergent crops that are all managed by the same machines. Everything is planted in straight rows so the farmers can drive down each lane easily.

Think about it for a minute. Sure you can plant and almond, and a peach, and an apple side by side in your back yard, and pick each one by hand, but have you considered what it would be like to harvest 40 acres of almonds? NOBODY can harvest anything of that scale by hand. If it was, we'd all be paying 30$ for almonds!

The reason the bees are being trucked in from long distance has everything to do with new pesticides that had bee-toxicity data falsified to make farmers think what they were spraying was safe. Instead, they were spraying their crops with stuff that was killing their bees without them ever knowing it. I see more healthy bees in suburban areas where serious agricultural pesticides are not being sprayed on everything.
 
Consider Paul's rocket stove mass heater.
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