Yesterday our blog post talked about honeybees from all over the USA being boxed up and sent on semi-trucks across country to the California almond groves of Central Valley. Beekeepers face many expenses and hazards while trying to get their bees to the almond trees.

Another potential hazard that is one of the most devastating is theft. And in these times, many people have cash flow problems and lack of resources, so they are more likely to take a chance on thieving hives.

If someone is intent on stealing bees, there is no better place and time to do it than when millions of hives are shipped in during a short, intense timeframe. The number of stolen hives could be higher than ever this season.

This unrelated 1:49-minute video by Good Day Sacramento shows a bee thief being arrested:



Bee rustlers are what are known in the industry as bee thieves. They are showing up just a short couple of weeks before the almond trees start to bloom, and the bees are arriving from all over.

This past weekend, at the end of January 2022, 144 beehives were stolen in the Wasco area. Another 384 hives were taken by thieves in Mendocino County since then. This is just another hazard facing beekeepers, bees, and farmers.

Bee thefts have been rising in recent years, and beekeepers are now starting to insist that almond growers take some responsibility for protecting the beehives that are placed in their orchards.

As the almond pollination season kicks off around mid-February and then ends in the first week of March, it is noted that this year bee colonies are renting for around $190 to $215. Twenty years ago, such hives rented for around $40 each. The price has sky-rocketed for many reasons, including drought, higher bee-feeding costs, colony die-offs, higher transportation costs, and more almond trees planted that require pollination.

Ryan Maxwell of T&D Honey, from South Dakota, lost the 144 hives near Wasco last weekend. Those hives represent 12% of his company’s business. There is no clause in his agreement with the Wasco grower for compensation in the event his hives are stolen. He said detectives are on the case and are indicating that hive theft is becoming more problematic. 

Some contracts, like the one used by UBees LLC of Visalia, require some degree of grower vigilance and in some cases monetary damages when theft occurs, with such wording as, the grower shall be responsible for protection of colonies and take “commercially reasonable steps” to prevent theft, vandalism, and other damage to bees, beehives, and equipment.

One almond grower said his contracts do not include compensation clauses, but that the bee broker he works with uses monitoring strips with satellite tracking. To deter theft, he places hives in nearly inaccessible areas. They keep gates locked and try to not place hives in orchards until just before almond bloom. Some growers, in contrast, leave colonies sitting in Wasco fields for weeks ahead of time.

Bee Culture magazine published research last month stating that 21% of 77 beekeepers surveyed reported they had some colonies stolen during 2020 or 2021. Only 11% of beekeepers that responded had a clause in their contracts with growers that granted any compensation if their hives are stolen.

The state beekeepers’ association published a guide last year for the first time ever with theft-deterrent tips. It recommended growers should communicate with local law enforcement and clearly mark their hive containers. It advised renting only from reputable beekeepers, making colonies easy to identify from a distance, and leaving suspicious tire tracks undisturbed.

Within their own community, beekeepers are sharing information about crimes and missing colonies. The group Commercial Beekeepers put out a newsletter by Joseph Taylor noting that thousands of beekeepers will be fanning out across Central Valley orchards in the next few weeks, so they should stay vigilant. That is a mighty powerful network if everyone looks out for each other.

He wrote that while everyone cares for their own bees, they should keep an eye out for equipment that matches what was just stolen.