Bee travel is harvested for California almonds.

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Bee travel is harvested for California almonds.

Millions of bees each year participate in the California almond harvest on off-road highways.

Robert siegel, host:

The half-truck next to the highway might carry something unexpected – a bee. Billions of people rent their crops every year from farmers who need bees to pollinate their crops. Robert Smith of NPR’s planetary money team followed a group of bees to the California almond area.

(sweet voice)

Robert Smith, wired: if you’re a bee, there’s no more idyllic place than Louisiana.

WES CARD: you have cypress trees. You have your flowering plants and beans, your cow fat trees.

Smith: but in spring, you’re there, you care about your own business…

W. Card: collect nectar and make honey.

Smith: all of a sudden, this man, veska, is put into the forklift.

(FORKLIFT ENGINE’s voice)

W.c. ARD: we began to pick them up and move them and put them on a new tray, then pile them up on the truck and start the journey.

Smith: first to La. Bunkie is a hive of honeybees, and eventually pollinating crops in California.

What happens if you don’t ship the bees to California?

W. c. ARD: if someone doesn’t carry bees, then there’s no blueberries, almonds, strawberries, no pumpkins, no oranges.

Smith: so the bees’ task is to prevent fruit and nuts from being inspired.

W: correct.

Smith: the big tractor trailer arrives at dusk, and the Numbers here will soon be crazy. They will carry 15 million bees to the truck alone, and beekeepers across the country are doing the same. As far as California’s almond crop is concerned, 30 billion bees are out of the state. Weiss’s brother Glenn says this is an important part of beekeepers’ income.

GLEN CARD: they’ve been driving bees around the country for decades. And you know, in the 19th century, they were moving them to the back of the horse. So it’s a natural migration for bees.

Smith: nothing is natural.

G.c. ARD: what’s so unnatural about that?

Smith: actually, you’re putting a thousand beehives behind the truck and sending it to California tonight.

Ka: but they perform natural functions there. It’s just that we make it more efficient.

 

Smith :(laughter) it’s an expression.

G: yes.

Smith: you would think there would be a simpler way to make almonds, but no. Over the past decade, almonds have become wildly popular, and farmers in California have grown more almond trees than California bees can pollinate. So they had to start shipping out of the state, which was challenging. After Wes’s crew loaded the half-finished product, they nailed a huge net on the hive so that they wouldn’t run away. Kermit Jones, the driver, had to keep his truck in the hive all day long.

KERMIT JONES: you know, you start in the morning and make sure you have fuel and everything. Then, you know, you drive until they calm down a little.

Smith: what if you need to go to the bathroom?

Derek Jones: oh, you have a few or something like that, you know?

(laughter.)

Smith: at night, fifteen million bees began to take risks.

W: Louisiana, Texas, new Mexico, Arizona and California.

Smith: when bees on the highway transport trucks, California’s broker bees are the right honeycomb match the correct orchards, and everyone hopes to healthy bees. The mysterious bee death still has a huge problem. This is the so-called colony collapse. In fact, Wes Card has to prepare two urticaria patients in Louisiana to prevent certain hives from disappearing.

(chain bickering)

Smith: three days after driving, the truck arrived at an almond orchard, and the city of westboro, California, warned me that I might want to put on a bee suit to unload.

W.c. ARD: we want to go a little further…

Smith :(laughter).

W.C ARD:…… When we’re ready to pull the screen.

Smith: these bees have not been able to fly for three days, so when the mosquito net came off, they created this huge black cloud. It swirls in the funnel over the truck, getting higher and higher.

(sweet voice)

Smith: I know you love them, but now it feels like we’re making a horror movie.

W: yes, there are lots of them.

Smith: the bees will live here until around mid-march, pollinating almond flowers and making all almond milk and low-carb snacks possible. The scale of the bee’s movement may seem crazy, weiss says, yes, it’s a little crazy. But he says there is demand. You can’t move the trees, so the bees just need to hit the road. NPR’s Robert Smith.

(the sound of CARIBOU SONG, “BEES”)

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