About 75% of crops and one-third of the world’s food supply depend on pollinators such as bees, Our world is in the data.
But farmers have to rely on commercially controlled honey bees coming from other states to help pollinate certain crops, such as almonds, because there are not enough wild bees for this job. And transporting bees hundreds or thousands of kilometers is not easy.
Loading bees almost always happens at night because bees are less active when it’s dark and cool outside, Earl Warren told FreightWaves.
Earl and Merle Warren are brothers, truck drivers and co-owners of Star’s Ferry Transport, based in Burley, Idaho. They started transporting bees to a local beekeeper in 1990 and transported about 50 loads of about 22 million bees each last year for companies such as Browning’s Honey Co.
“It’s not like a load of steel or lumber. These are living beings. These are the livelihoods of those beekeepers, so we are doing our best to keep them alive, ”said Earl Warren.
Every time you move a truck with bees, about 5% of queens die, said Sharah Yaddo, director of communications at Project Apis m. (PAM), said FreightWaves. Founded by commercial beekeepers and almond growers in 2006, PAM is the largest nonprofit honey bee organization in the United States.
Minimizing stress for bees is very important, so beekeepers rely on experienced truck drivers to navigate difficult situations such as warm weather, few opportunities to stop during the day and check.
Preparing bees for transportation
Many beekeepers inspect, feed and treat their bees before transporting them, Yaddau said. Crews can download truck from 400 to 450 hives 20 minutes to an hour.
With a colony of about 50,000 commercial bees in each hive, the driver can move more than 22 million bees in one truck. This is a valuable cargo, so truck drivers try to avoid problems and loss of life of bees on the road.
The weight of the hives often determines how many can be put on one trailer. Four hives are placed on each pallet, and the pallets are stacked on top of each other. The straps fix the net on top of the hives to keep the pallets and hives in place.
After loading the truck at night, Warren drives for several hours and tries to get around any intense traffic before stopping to sleep.
When the morning begins to glow or heat, it takes off in order to arrive at its final destination for unloading after dark.
Why do people transport bees around the country?
The bees are disappearing due to habitat reduction and increased pesticide use. If there are not enough bees to pollinate the fields, companies pay beekeepers to transport their bee colonies for the pollination season.
“Great pollination migration”Occurs every year in February, when almonds bloom in California.
To pollinate seemingly endless fields of almond trees in California requires 85% to 90% of all honey bees available for pollination in the U.S., Yaddo said. Bees are brought to California from all over the country.
Browning’s Honey manages more than 30,000 hives. The company moves bees about six times a year between states including North Dakota, Idaho, California and Texas. In addition to almonds, Browning bees help pollinate crops such as apples, canola seeds and cherries.
Commercial beekeepers who send their bees to California for pollination tend to deliver the bees there by the end of January, so training often begins in early or mid-January, depending on where they are located.
Could warm weather mean no breaks in the bathroom?
Bees are very sensitive to temperature, so transporting them in warm weather is a serious problem. They fly out of their hives at temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit when there is not enough airflow from moving at high speeds.
Truckers prefer to move bees on colder days because bees can die from overheating. Warren said truck drivers transporting bees can’t stop in the middle of the day to refuel and take a shower.
“The warmer it gets, the worse. It’s all about timing. You need to know how many miles your mileage is, ”Warren said. “You stop at the pot and the bees come out because they’ve lost airflow.”
If the bees start to leave the hives during the stop, drivers need to slowly move away from the stop so that the bees follow the truck and do not disturb people nearby.
“Once they go beyond the network, they pretty much become history,” Warren said.
Bees cannot find their way back into the net and cannot survive outside the net without their uterus. But if the bees leave the hives and stay under the net, they can return to their hives at night when it gets colder.
Sometimes drivers pour cool water over the hives to keep them from overheating.
“It’s a good commodity to transport. It is usually a bit more expensive than transporting bees, but there are definitely limitations. The timing needs to be right, and once those bees are on the truck, the trucker has to really reasonably schedule their stops, ”said FreightWaves Zach Browning, a fourth-generation beekeeper and co-owner of Browning’s Honey and PAM.
Warm weather can also be a problem with transporting bees by plane. Bees are placed in closed containers for air travel so that they cannot take off. If they are left in the heat without a refrigerator, they can die from heat exhaustion. Here’s what happened recently at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
About 5 million bees have recently found themselves on warm asphalt without refrigerators and sugar syrup, the food they expect during transport, This was reported by the Washington Post. The bees were supposed to fly from Sacramento, California, through Seattle on their way to Alaska, but were diverted through Atlanta because there was no space on the flight to Seattle.
Instead of getting to the next flight to Seattle from Atlanta, the bees were left on the tarmac because the cargo hold mechanism on the plane was broken.
Jimmy Gath, President Atlanta Metro Beekeepers Association, sent an email to local beekeepers saying they could save as many bees as they had rescued. Gath estimated that beekeepers were able to save about 30% of the bees.
Breakdowns and maintenance
While some breakdowns are inevitable, staying up to date with car maintenance is key. Warren said, “These are the livelihoods of these people,” so the Warren brothers try to keep downtime and thus bee losses to a minimum.
If on a hot day the truck breaks down or has to stop even for a moment, all the bees can die or fly away. Yaddau said: “It’s tragic, but it happens.” Warren said that over his more than 30 years of experience transporting bees, he was stung too many times to count, but he lost only one load due to a breakdown he couldn’t fix before the bees flew away.
Warren keeps two bee costumes in his truck – one for himself in case there is something simple, such as a fan belt that needs to be replaced, and the other for mechanics.
Warren said some people are reluctant to help a trucker that carries bees, even with access to an extra suit. But drivers can get stuck if there is a difficult problem or a lost tire.
Honey Browning coped with failuresbreakdowns, emergency medical care, and road closures and delays due to weather while transporting bees.
“In all these cases, communication is very important so that we can pick up another driver or other installation as soon as possible so that the bees are not hurt,” Browning said.
I hope for truck drivers
Many commercial beekeepers do not transports bees around the country themselves. They entrust their valuable loads of bees to hired truck drivers.
“It is very important to have drivers who understand that bees are living animals and that they are fragile. They can be mishandled and they can die, so we need to have drivers who understand the stress that bees feel while they are on their truck, ”Browning said.
The role of truck drivers is not just to drive a truck when they are transporting bees. They are also responsible for making difficult decisions.
Browning said the last two years have been particularly challenging because it has been difficult to find drivers who have experience transporting bees, and “the cost of freight has risen sharply”.
Merle Warren explained one situation in which years of experience helped him make an informed choice about what to do in inclement weather.
The Warren brothers had just passed from Blackfoot, Idaho, to Pacatello, Idaho – just 26 miles on the 625-mile road to the Doner Pass in California – when they received word that the pass was closed due to snow.
The company they were transporting the bees to said they would have to cross Las Vegas.
“I’m not going through Vegas because it’s too hot,” Warren said. “We’re not going to change the route.” Once they reached Reno, Nevada, they waited about 15 minutes and then learned that the Doner Pass was open and the chain laws were no longer in effect.
The verification process in California
Trucks entering California with bees face a rigorous inspection process to ensure that invasive species are not caught. Inspectors are looking for weeds, insects or dirt in the hives.
If an insect is found on any hive, inspectors send photos to scientists and entomologists. The insect must be identified before the truck can enter the state, Yaddo said. Sometimes trucks have to leave the staff and clean up anything that was found before returning.
Warren had to do it once, and he said it took about three hours to drive back to the nearest town, wash the hives and return to the checkpoint.
“There may be a long wait, and it could cause problems for the bees,” Yaddau said. The wait can be from 20 minutes to five hours.
PAM has worked with officials on the California line to install hose stations at some of the busiest inspection points to cool the bees when there are long queues waiting to pass.
A Preview program has been implemented in several states, which speeds up the process. The program is “still in its infancy”, but so far there have been very positive reviews, Yaddo said.
State inspectors travel to beekeepers to inspect bees before they are shipped to California. If they pass the inspection, they can submit documents at the border and go much faster.
Browning’s Honey uses a pre-inspection process that turns about a two-hour wait of 10 or 15 minutes at the border.