Mike Potts was aware he was at risk of being a victim of crime, he just didn’t think it would happen to him. But Potts is an owner of an increasingly valuable commodity that thieves are targeting with growing sophistication in the US: bees.
A booming demand for honeybees for pollination drew Potts, owner of Pottsy’s Pollination in Oregon, to load 400 hives of his bees on trucks and drive them down to California’s agricultural heartland last month. He unloaded them to a holding area just outside Yuba City and returned just a few days later to find 92 hives had been whisked away by thieves.
“I pulled in the yard and noticed that there was some stuff missing,” said Potts, who estimated the theft cost him $44,000. Police subsequently pulled over three suspicious beekeepers traveling late at night, to no avail. “I’ve heard that there had been some stealing but didn’t think it would happen to me. It’s frustrating because it’s getting harder and harder to keep bees alive. And then you transport them down and they just get taken.”
The theft is the latest in a string of beehive heists, often undertaken at the dead of night using forklifts and trucks. Hives are regularly split open or dismantled, interventions that can kill tens of thousands of the kidnapped bees. The problem has become severe enough in California that certain police officers now specialize in hive crime.
“Hive theft has always been an issue but it has definitely increased over the last eight years,” said Rowdy Freeman, a Butte county police officer who is commonly referred to as “bee theft detective.” Freeman has compiled figures showing there was an explosion in California hive thefts in 2016, with 1,695 being taken, compared with 101 in 2015. In 2017, the figure was 1,048 hives.
“The number fluctuates but it is definitely something that will continue and that will require resources and advancements in the use of technology to help prevent and deter theft.”
The center of beehive thefts is California’s Central Valley, a fertile stretch of agricultural land responsible for about a quarter of all the produce grown in the US. This huge output—of lettuce, grapes, lemons, apricots and more—requires pollination from far more bees than naturally live in the area.
The main driver of the demand for honeybees is the almond industry, which has doubled in size over the past two decades. There are currently 1.17m acres of almonds in California that require pollination which, at a standard rate of two beehives an acre, means the industry somehow needs to conjure up 2.34m beehives for a short window of time each February, when almond trees start to blossom.
Beekeepers from across the US congregate in the Central Valley in a sort of annual almond jamboree; more than two-thirds of the nation’s commercially managed honeybees sent on trucks to a 50-mile-wide strip of fertile land. Unlike native, wild bees like bumblebees, honeybees are carefully marshaled in hives and are now more valuable as contract pollination workers than as honey producers.
By Geetika Joshi, CDFA Senior Environmental Scientist
Farmers and ranchers in California know that their Golden State is more than palm trees and beaches. It is the largest dairy producing state in the nation, and based on 2017 data, California housed 1.7 million cows and produced 39.8 billion pounds of milk on 1,331 dairies.
The overwhelming majority of our dairy cows — 91% — live in the Central Valley, while the remaining 9% reside in the northern coast and southern regions. These areas vary significantly in climate, water, and air quality, all of which play a role in on-farm animal and manure management methods. The cooler climates up north are well-suited to pasture-based operations, while larger feedlot-style, flush-based systems prevail in the Central Valley.
The methane challenge
California’s large number of cows contribute methane emissions, which result from the action of methanogenic bacteria that thrive in the cows’ guts. Methane from livestock comes from two main sources: enteric fermentation, such as cow belching, and storage of manure in anaerobic (wet) conditions, such as ponds and lagoons.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), and its emissions are responsible for about 20% of the global warming now driving climate change. In California, agriculture accounts for 8% of the total inventoried GHGs, and about 53%of that is from animal agriculture. Enteric fermentation contributes to 28% of our agricultural methane emissions, while 25% stems from manure storage.
State legislation passed in 2016, SB 1383, requires California’s dairy and livestock sector to reduce its methane emissions to 40% below 2013 levels by 2030. The statute requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB), in consultation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), to potentially adopt regulations beginning in 2024 to reduce methane from dairy and livestock manure management operations. SB 1383 also requires CARB to work with a broad range of stakeholders to identify and address challenges and barriers to the development of dairy methane emissions reduction projects.
While reducing enteric fermentation methane emissions remains a challenge that needs additional research and development, methods of manure management are well-researched and commercially available. One such method is establishment of anaerobic digesters to capture the methane produced from stored manure, which can then be used to generate renewable energy. There are also several nondigester technologies and practices that focus on eliminating wet storage conditions of manure to realize methane emissions reduction.
Funding for projects
California currently offers voluntary financial incentives for implementing measurable methane reductions at dairy and livestock operations. These incentives are provided through two CDFA-administered programs: the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) and the Alternative Manure Management Program (AMMP). These programs are funded through California Climate Investments, also known as the Cap-and-Trade program.
DDRDP was first developed and implemented in 2014-15 with an initial appropriation of $12 million. In its first year, the program funded six dairy digester projects in the Central Valley, where the captured methane was used to make renewable electricity. DDRDP to date has awarded approximately $181.6 million to implement 107 projects located on individual dairies throughout California. These projects generate renewable compressed natural gas (RCNG) fuel in addition to renewable electricity-generating projects. Thirteen dairy digester projects are now complete, and the remainder are in various phases of completion.
Funded dairy digester projects are located across seven counties in the Central Valley, and collectively they reduce approximately 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCO2e) annually, which equates to 420,000 cars being taken off the road each year.
AMMP was first developed and implemented in 2016-17 in response to stakeholder interest in non-digester management practices. The need for large amounts of digester feedstock, a 50% financial match, proximity to natural gas pipelines, and ease of connection to existing electric grids are some of the key factors attributed to successful digester projects. Subsequently, smaller or more remotely located dairy operations needed a menu of additional options to participate in California’s methane reduction efforts.
AMMP incentivizes nondigester-based manure management practices. This includes conversion from water flush systems to dry scrape systems; solid separation followed by drying or composting of manure solids; compost-bedded pack barns; and increasing the amount of time animals spend on pasture.
AMMP has funded 106 projects totaling $61.9 million. Of these, 28 projects are complete, and the remainder are in various phases of completion. Funded projects are located across 12 counties and collectively reduce approximately 200,000 metric tons of CO2e annually. This is equivalent to more than 42,000 cars being taken off the road each year.
In 2019, CDFA also funded three demonstration projects, totaling almost $2 million. The aim of these projects is to showcase new and innovative manure technologies as well as conduct outreach and educate dairy farmers.
With expectations for Cap-and-Trade funding to continue, California is poised to meet its target within the next decade for early and measurable methane reductions. In addition, many co-benefits exist that dairy producers can expect with a digester or alternative manure management practices. For example, digesters can provide an important revenue stream from the sale of renewable energy, which also contributes to climate change adaptation. Similar benefits may also be provided through production of compost.
Methods such as anaerobic digestion and drying of manure solids can potentially help reduce impacts to water quality, since these projects transform manure into a stabilized, easier-to-handle form. The resulting dried manure compost can be moved and used as a soil amendment benefiting plant and soil health.
Most importantly, these voluntary initiatives provide California’s dairy families with the tools and capacity to engage in climate change efforts. Dairy agriculture is an important economic and food contributor, and it is also playing a key role in California’s efforts to lead the nation in practices to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
For more information on CDFA’s Dairy and Livestock Methane Reduction Programs, visit: DDRDP and AMMP. Follow us on Twitter: @CDFAClimateNews.
CDFA is pleased to be part of this year’s 32nd annual California Small Farm Conference that runs from Thursday, February 27 through Saturday, February 29 at Cuesta College North County Campus, 2800 Buena Vista Dr, Paso Robles, CA, located in San Luis Obispo County.
This year’s conference theme is “Strength Through Diversity”, honoring the resilience of diversity in agricultural systems. The conference attracts family farmers, ranchers, farmers market managers and advocates for local food from across the state.
is also pleased to be part of the one-day statewide Black Farmer and Urban Farmer Conference that will take place
on Saturday, February 29 from 7:30 am –
3:00 pm at the West Fresno Family Resource Center, housed in the Maxie Parks
Community Center, 1802 E. California, Fresno, CA.
UC Davis’ annual Biodiversity Museum Day earlier this month provided an excellent opportunity for CDFA’s Plant Pest Diagnostics Lab to show off some of its most prized posessions: the California State Collection of Arthropods.
Dr. Martin Hauser, Dr. Peter Kerr and Dr. Michael Forthman spent the day highlighting the important work they do for agriculture.
Besides displaying parts of entomological collections, these CDFA scientists spent their day fielding questions from an excited audience of all ages there to learn about biodiversity. One of CDFA’s roles is to collect and preserve these “reference collections” so that scientists, farmers and other stakeholders can accurately and quickly identify an organism to determine whether it is a pest or a beneficial insect, or whether it is a native or invasive organism. The diverse audience ranged from families with children, to young adults and students, to very interested retirees and citizen scientists.
CDFA’s collaboration with the university’s Bohart Museum of Entomology is indicative of the productive relationship the two organizations have across a broad range of scientific specialties relating to agriculture and the environment.
Funds to replace old agricultural equipment and vehicles are now available for 18 of California’s smaller air districts. Replacement with cleaner equipment helps reduce emissions of harmful diesel exhaust and greenhouse gases, and improves local air quality.
The statewide Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions (FARMER) program received $132 million in fiscal year 2018-19. Approximately $4.65 million is specifically designated for districts that each contribute less than 1 percent of total statewide emissions from agricultural equipment.
The first application period for the 18 “shared pool” districts kicked off Saturday, February 1, and runs through March 1, 2020. The second application period is set from May 1 to June 1, 2020. FARMER funding is administered by California’s regional air districts, and farmers apply by submitting an application to their local air district.
To be eligible, vehicles and equipment must be engaged in agricultural operations. Eligible project categories include:
• On-road heavy-duty trucks;
• Off-road vehicles, such as tractors;
• Stationary and portable engine sources, such as agricultural pumps;
• Utility Terrain Vehicles (UTV), or small tractors, (eligible for replacement with electric UTV); and
• Infrastructure engaged in, or supporting, agricultural operations.
Since the FARMER program first launched in 2018, projects implemented statewide will reduce 250 tons of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), 4,200 tons of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and 64,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases.
The FARMER Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities.
The 18 shared pool districts were designated to ensure farmers in those smaller districts have the opportunity to access FARMER funding. The pool is managed by Placer County Air Pollution Control District.
The 18 districts are:
Amador County APCD Antelope Valley AQMD Calaveras County APCD El Dorado County AQMD Great Basin Unified APCD Lake County AQMD Lassen County APCD Mariposa County APCD Mendocino County AQMD Modoc County APCD Mojave Desert AQMD North Coast Unified AQMD Northern Sierra AQMD Northern Sonoma County APCD Placer County APCD Shasta County AQMD Siskiyou County APCD Tuolumne County APCD
Note – Food deserts are urban areas where people find it difficult to find affordable, nutritious food.
CDFA’s Healthy Stores Refrigeration Grant Program has made funding available to organizations and markets looking to bring fresh, nutritious foods to low-income or low-food-access areas throughout the state. The grants are used for refrigeration units stocking California-grown fresh produce, nuts and minimally processed foods.
One such project was introduced yesterday at Rivera Mart in Sacramento’s Del Paso Heights neighborhood. The market’s owner, Joseph Zaki, said he pursued the grant through the Public Health Institute Center for Wellness and Nutrition after customers began asking him to stock fresh produce.
The program was created by legislation introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), and it has awarded a total of $4.5 million to 67 grantees.
During the ceremony in Del Paso Heights one local customer yelled, “Thanks, Joe!” and the crowd erupted in applause.
Two members of CDFA’s Information Technology staff were honored this month at the 2020 Public Section CIO Academy Awards ceremony in Sacramento. In the category of IT Leadership, the CDFA awardees were:
Marc Grijalva – Customer Delivery Unit Manager
Marc Grijalva has made substantial improvements in the delivery of projects within CDFA. He’s established, implemented, monitored and improved the project management process. He established a quality control program with quality assurance for continual improvements to existing practices. He applied a similar approach to the Enterprise Test Office. The testing processes, procedures, and standards he implemented have significantly reduced defects. While there are organizational change issues that remain to be remediated, Marc’s management and leadership is making very clear progress in this area.
Sherri WinfreeBudgets, Business Operations and IT Contracts Manager
Sherri Winfree recently acquired responsibility for IT Asset Management, a critical and challenging function due to the high number of field staff at CDFA and the frequent movement of IT assets. Sherri implemented a top-down review of how asset management was performed and identified gaps. With her team, she restructured the processes to be consistent with LEAN processes. Her leadership has led to significant improvements.
New research published in the Journal of Dairy Science finds the climate footprint of milk production in California has been significantly reduced over the past 50 years (1964 to 2014). The amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced per unit of milk was reduced by more than 45 percent. Scientists at the University of California, Davis conducted a life cycle environmental assessment (cradle to farm gate) of California dairy farm production, using the latest scientific models and international research standards.
“The study documents the productivity, efficiency, and overall sustainability of milk production in California and the critical role dairy cows play in regenerative agricultural practices and sustainable food systems,” said Dr. Ermias Kebreab, Professor at UC Davis and Sesnon Endowed Chair, who led graduate student Anna Naranjo in completing the research project.
The study’s key findings are as follows:
The amount of greenhouse gas emissions per each unit of milk (e.g. glass or gallon) produced has decreased more than 45 percent, due to increased milk production efficiency, including improved reproductive efficiency, nutrition, comfort, and overall management.
The amount of water used per unit of milk produced has decreased more than 88 percent, primarily due to improved feed crop production and water use efficiency.
Dramatically improved feed crop production and utilization of agricultural byproducts have led to significant reductions in the amount of natural resources used to produce each unit of milk, including, land, water, fossil fuels, and energy.
“The study shows we are producing milk more efficiently and sustainably, minimizing our climate footprint in the process,” said Richard Wagner, a San Joaquin Valley dairy farmer and chairman of the California Dairy Research Foundation (CDRF). “While there is always more work to be done, the findings show a significant overall improvement in environmental performance, producing more wholesome, nutritious milk and dairy products with fewer natural resources, less water, less energy, and fewer fossil fuels.”
Over the past 50 years, California dairy production has undergone significant advancements, from animal feeding and housing practices to overall animal and crop production efficiency. The researchers expect that as milk production per cow continues to increase through improved feed formulations, reproductive efficiency, and management techniques, it will lead to further improvements in dairy farming’s environmental footprint.
As the study documents, more than 40 percent of dairy feed ingredients in California are byproducts of other agricultural and food production processes, such as almond hulls, citrus and tomato pulp, culled carrots and other similar products that are not suited for human consumption but make healthy, nutritious feed for cattle. As a result, nearly half of the feed needed to produce California milk—which represents about 20 percent of all U.S. milk—is being provided without a single drop of additional water. Dairy cows are efficient recyclers, making use of food and agricultural byproducts that are either indigestible or undesirable for humans and avoiding the need to landfill or otherwise dispose of these materials.
“Cows are natural bioprocessors and upcyclers of nutrients,” said Dr. Kevin Comerford, Chief Science Officer for CDRF. “As a result, cows will continue to play essential roles in healthy and sustainable food systems all over the world. This study demonstrates the environmental benefits in California, where dairy farmers have been especially successful in recycling and repurposing resources.”
While the analysis demonstrates significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions intensity (more than 45 percent), these estimates can be considered conservative, and more progress toward climate-smart practices continues to be made. The research does not factor in the implementation of large solar panel arrays, which has occurred on more than 150 dairy farms in California and represents a significant shift toward renewable energy. The California Department of Food and Agriculture has also reported that through the implementation of dairy methane reduction projects, California’s dairy farms will soon be more than halfway to achieving the state’s world-leading target (a 40 percent reduction in manure methane emissions), equating to millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions each year.
“California dairy farms have made major improvements in environmental performance over the past 50 years,” said Denise Mullinax, Executive Director of CDRF. “We know our farms are continually increasing their overall efficiency. This study advances our understanding of the environmental benefits and verifies that farmers are on a path toward continued improvement.”
This research was supported by California Dairy Research Foundation and the Sesnon Endowment fund of University of California, Davis.