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Any organic/polyculture/permaculture almond farmers here?

 
Dave Miller
Posts: 409
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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Just wondering if there are any almond farmers here who are either practicing or are interested in organic, permaculture, or polyculture methods in their almond orchard?

I am coming to the conclusion that the industrial monoculture almond industry in California (around 1 million acres) is going to crash. In the larger scheme of things, this could actually be a good thing, if there are almond farmers who survive the crash - because all eyes will be on them. IMHO the survivors will be the organic/permie farmers. We should rally around these farmers, to ensure that they not only survive, but thrive, and thus have 1 million acres of farmers coming to them seeking advice. If there are no survivors, the farmers will continue to turn to "Big Ag" for solutions, which probably won't be pretty.

In other words, this almond crash could be a huge tipping point to get permaculture methods widely adopted.

I could help by providing materials (hollow stems) and advice on increasing the number of native bees on the farms. I have been doing this on my property for several years and it has been going well.
 
Adam Klaus
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Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Aren't mason bees a perfect solution to the pollination situation with almonds?

Other than pollination, what is so vulnerable about the almond orchards in California?

Granted, I am a permaculturalist, and a polyculturalist, and no fan of industrial ag whatsoever. But it seems to me that exotic honeybees are the problem, and native mason bees are the solution. Seems simple and non-scary to me. What am I missing?

TIA
 
wayne fajkus
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He may be referring to the drought which is killing off orchards.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a) ~39" rain/year
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The methods they use to grow almonds in the desert require more than a gallon of water for every almond produced. Slate has reported that more than 10% of California's total water use goes to almond production. With the drought they have going on, that is the very essence of "unsustainable".
 
Dave Miller
Posts: 409
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
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Sorry I should have included my reasoning for predicting a crash.

Yes I believe that the drought in California is capable of crashing the almond industry on its own. It sounds like the lack of water is the #1 threat to the California almond industry at the moment. Although some orchards have enough groundwater to survive.

Adam - yes mason bees could be a great solution to the almond pollination situation. However it is my understanding that due to the constant attack from insects and diseases (which is probably due to the monoculture approach), farmers must be spraying their trees with insecticides & fungicides very frequently. Almond trees bloom for about 2 weeks which is when the beekeepers bring in all their honeybee hives. Currently the farmers hold off on spraying insecticides during those 2 weeks since the bees are there. Or they spray at night, when the bees are not in the trees. But many continue to spray fungicides, which do not kill the bees, but may be making them sick. Also since billions of bees are brought together in one place, bee parasites and diseases are spread among the honeybees while in the almond orchards (and probably brought back home with the bees). It seems like it is only a matter of time until either the beekeepers decide it isn't worth the risk to their bees to bring them to the almond orchards, or some new strain of pest/disease/fungicide spray shows up and decimates all the bees which have been in the almond orchards.

Female mason bees live (as an adult) for 6 weeks or so. So in order to utilize mason bees, the farmers would have to hold off on pesticides (and probably fungicides) for 6 weeks. I don't think they are willing to do that. Let's say that they refrain from spraying for just 2 weeks, while the trees are in bloom. Let's also say that the farmers have put out tubes for mason bees to lay their eggs (which are required to keep the mason bees from flying away). The mason bees pollinate their trees, and the farmers are happy. But before the bees can lay all their eggs, the farmers resume spraying, and kill or sicken all the mason bees. The eggs probably survive because they are in the tubes, but their numbers will be way smaller than if the bees could have lived out their lives. So the farmers will have to purchase mason bees every year. This in itself may not be a bad thing. However I don't think there are enough people raising mason bees to supply 1 million acres with mason bees. But supply and demand could eventually balance out. I also think that some people raising mason bees will be hesitant to sell their cocoons to almond farmers who will let the bees live for 2 weeks, then kill them with insecticides.

Also since the almonds are only blooming for 2 weeks, after 2 weeks the bees have no food, since most almond orchards have NO other plants growing under or near them (this is to allow the machinery to pick up the almonds off the ground). So even if the bees weren't sprayed with pesticides after 2 weeks, the bees would probably starve to death, or not be able to find pollen for their eggs, or both. So again the farmers will be forced to purchase mason bees.

If we could get the farmers to plant insectary plants in their orchards, that would solve the starvation problem. But it wouldn't solve the spraying problem. And the farmers would have to switch machinery or methods in order to harvest the almonds with the (remnants of) insectary plants present.

These are the reasons are why I think the California industrial almond monocultures are going to crash.
 
Dawn Hoff
Posts: 379
Location: AndalucĂ­a, Spain
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The almond orchards in California compete w. the Spanish on the world market. The Spanish loose because they have greater variety of taste, which means that there is a greater risk of encountering a bitter-almond. The average consumer does not like that. The reason the California trees don't produce bitter-almond is, as far as I know, that they are grafted. This lack of genetic varians also makes them more vulnerable to pests. Most Spanish almonds are grown from seed and grow in mountain areas where planting anything else would be unproductive. These almonds are usually hand picked. The land around the almond trees have rosemary, thyme, lavender etc. growing - in July the bees eat syrup dripping from almost nature carobs - not much else for them to eat here, except maybe oleander flowers. The Spanish orchards I know of are not watered (but maybe bigger more commercial ones are?)
 
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