California's almond growers face a labor shortage: too few honey bees. Bees responsible for pollinating a crop worth nearly $1 billion have been hurt by predatory mites and disease. To save the almonds, 500,000 bee colonies had to be brought in from out of state last winter. And almond acreage is increasing because of crop failures in Spain.
One answer to the shortage of honey bees could be putting other kinds of bees to work. U.S. Agriculture Research Service scientists are studying the use of so-called pollen bees, which are less versatile than honey bees because they pollinate only certain plants and don't produce much wax or honey. One promising candidate is the blue orchard bee, which pollinates almonds, apples, and stone fruits such as peaches. An advantage is that pmllen bees won't mate with Africanized bees, which are difficult to manage. The next step is breeding commercial quantities. Bumblebees, carpenter bees, and shaggy fuzzyfoot bees are other contenders.