We depend on pollinators like bees and other insects more than we realize. They help pollinate almost 75 percent of our crops, including most fruits and vegetables. Without them, we would have little to eat. Pollination by US honey bees in 2010 contributed to more than $19 billion worth of crops, and pollination by other insect pollinators contributed to almost $10 billion of crops the same year.
North American pollinators are at risk. hundreds of pollinator species are on the brink of extinction. Honey bees and wild pollinators are declining. Beekeepers routinely lose more than 30 percent of their hives a year.
Some companies are taking action to protect and save pollinators. Food giant General Mills is one of those companies. The company has invested over $6 million since 2011 to support pollinator and biodiversity efforts. Their efforts include working with an almond orchard near Fresno, California owned by Olam International farms. The almond orchard is one of the largest in the US.
Olam’s almond orchard worked with both General Mills and the Xerces Society to create almost six miles of flowering hedgerows, wildflowers and plants, planted in 2014 to supply nutritious food for the pollinators in the orchard. Olam, which has 7,000 acres of almond orchards in California, supplies General Mills with almonds for its products, including Nature Valley and LÄRABAR.
All almonds produced in the U.S. are grown in California; most are grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Over 80 percent of the almonds sold globally are grown in California. Almost 90 percent of all honey bee colonies in the US are from around the world, and are brought to California every February. Flowering habitat can help support declining bee populations by supplying them with extra nutrition. Planting habitat in and around orchards gives bees extra food options; that helps keep them healthy during almond pollination. Hedgerows with flowering shrubs are a great option for bees. Planting them around or between rows means farmers do not have to give up any of their cropland.
Häagen-Dazs is another company that works with an almond supplier in the San Joaquin Valley. Harris Family Farms in Chowchilla in Fresno County supplies all of the almonds in Häagen-Dazs ice creams. They have planted 6.5 miles of flowering hedgerows with the support of the ice cream company. Häagen-Dazs is also working with Harris Family Farms to plant a flowering understory between almond orchard rows. Harris Family Farms have assessed their pesticide use and are adopting strategies to protect pollinators from exposure to high risk pesticides. Doing so helps the farm meet the production standards of the Bee Better Certified program, which was launched this year to certify food and farms.
Companies working with almond farmers to help pollinators is an important partnership model, given that almonds are a major cash crop in California, ranking number two in terms of acreage and cash value. Almonds in 2015 were the state’s number one export. In recent years, many grape and raisin farmers have pulled out their vineyards and planted almond trees. Almond acreage continues to increase.
Photo: General Mills