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California beekeepers use tech to thwart hive thieves

By AI HEPING in New York | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-02-25 09:20


In Pennsylvania, nearly 60,000 bees were stolen last month from a grocery store company's field.

And in California, GPS tracking devices, surveillance cameras and other anti-theft technology are being used to stop thefts and a $10,000 reward had been offered after one heist.

The thefts are of beehives, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to their owners. Hives are in demand now for the largest pollination event in the world-California's estimated 0.65 million hectares of almond trees.

California's almond industry is a $11 billion business, according to state agriculture officials. People in the United States are now the world's biggest per capita almond eaters, consuming more than 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) per person annually.

Up to two-thirds of beekeepers in the US lease their hives to almond farmers annually. A survey of commercial beekeepers estimated it will take 90 percent of honeybee colonies in the US to pollinate all the almond orchards.

Beekeepers have spent weeks shipping billions of honey bees by the truckload to California as almond growing has outpaced the supply of local commercial bee colonies. Florida's beekeepers sent 18 million bees to California to rent them to growers.

In the past few weeks, 1,036 beehives worth hundreds of thousands of dollars were reported stolen from Californian orchards statewide, authorities told The Associated Press. The largest heist involved 384 beehives taken on Feb 1 from a field in Mendocino County.

With pollination fees now as much as $230 per hive, authorities said the beehives are being stolen and sold off or re-rented to other farmers or beekeepers who either need additional colonies or need to make up population numbers after their own bees have died.

Those in the beekeeping industry said hive thefts have been common for years, and often committed by other companies or at least people who know how to handle bees.

"It's bad beekeepers stealing from good beekeepers," Butte County Sheriff's Deputy Rowdy Freeman told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat newspaper. Freeman is a law enforcement liaison to the California State Beekeepers Association and also a fellow beekeeper. "It's all driven around the opportunity to make a lot of money fast."

A day after the state beekeeper's association put up a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of stolen hives in Mendocino, an anonymous tip led authorities to recover most of the boxes stolen two hours away on agricultural property. According to Press Democrat, one suspect was arrested.

All but four hives survived, and the owner estimated the theft involved anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 bees per hive. The total loss came to about $154,000.

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