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Beekeepers Search for Answers as Colonies Show up Damaged after Almond Farm Pollination

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 As many as 80,000 bee colonies have died or been damaged this year after pollinating almond trees in the San Joaquin Valley, and some beekeepers are pointing to pesticides used on almond orchards as a possible cause.

The damaged colonies are the latest worry in the beekeeping community, which is already struggling to deal with colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon in which beekeepers open hives after pollination and find them empty, with the bees nowhere to be found.

The damaged hives are a significant agricultural issue. Ninety percent of honeybees that pollinate crops in the United States are used during the California almond bloom. And there is a cascading effect. Bees used to pollinate almond trees typically are moved to pollinate other crops, such as apples, cranberries, cherries and watermelons.

It's not clear why the damaged hives are showing up this year, as opposed to prior years.

"We're a little mystified," said John Miller, a beekeeper based in Newcastle. "We have some colonies that looked like they've been through some kind of brood die-off. It's puzzling because it is intermittent and random."

Miller keeps about 12,000 colonies of bees, which pollinate trees at almond farms in Newcastle. He said the damage he has incurred is moderate compared with what he has seen other beekeepers suffer - whole colonies damaged or dead.

Almond pollination in California requires the use of 1.6 million bee colonies, almost all brought in from other states by an army of 1,300 commercial beekeepers.      
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