I read John Cox's Feb. 17 article, "Almond growers pay record prices amid bee shortage," which was reprinted online in the American Bee Journal. I am concerned that the way almonds and other nuts are pollinated in California is a major contributor to colony collapse and the spread of other bee diseases. In order to pollinate their crop, half the bees in the country are involved.
Some -- in fact, most -- of those bees are from far away, some from across the country. If any diseases exist in any of the colonies that are gathered together, they are easily and quickly spread to other visiting colonies and brought back to their native homes.
This is a very different situation from the usual. If bees remain in their local area, the spread of diseases is limited by the natural range of bees, a few miles from the hive. The spread of diseases is much slower, and resistance has time to build by natural selection. If the spread is hundreds and even thousands of miles per bee generation, resistance never builds up and colonies are wiped out. Think of the effects of smallpox on the indigenous American population when Europeans arrived. A disaster! Whole tribes were wiped out.
The bees used for large-scale pollination should be local bees -- very local. Almond growers should be raising their own bees. They should also be growing more diverse crops, so bees can feed and reproduce all year. Less monoculture would also be healthy for the nut trees, reducing the effects of tree diseases. Again, we have examples; the monoculture of American elm trees, particularly in the Midwest, contributed enormously to the spread of Dutch elm disease. If the trees were spread farther apart because of an occasional white oak (for example), the spread of the fungus would have been much slower and naturally limited.
In summary, the poor farming practices of the almond growers are major contributors to their own (and bee keepers') problems.