STANISLAUS COUNTY (CBS SF) — A growing number of thieves are targeting farmers in California’s Central Valley by stealing beehives, but those farmers are planning to fight back with a sting operation of their own.
Almond farmer and beekeeper Orin Johnson likes to call himself the poster child for bee theft.
“I’ve had four bee thefts,” said Johnson. “Three of the four were in the last three years.”
From January to March, California’s booming almond crop creates enough demand for bees that they’re shipped in from across country.
“Probably 90 percent of all the bees in the U.S.,” explained Johnson.
The increasing scarcity of a troubled bee population only drives up that demand.
“As you get closer to that income of renting them to almond growers, the value almost doubles,” said Johnson.
Add it all up and you get an annual bee crime spree. “I had a local friend of mine and they came in with a truck in the night and they took off I believe 120 hives,” lamented Johnson.
So after several years of bee heists, the problem is only getting worse. So this week, the California Beekeepers Association launched a series of meetings to prepare for next season. But keeping track of all of these hives is not going to be easy.
“I only run about 500 hives,” said Johnson. “A lot of people think that’s a lot.”
Farmers have come up with some ideas of how to keep an eye on all of those hives.
“Game cameras. Hunters and sportsmen use them to see game,” said Johnson.
Another option farmers are looking at is GPS tracking chips, but that presents a different problem.
“If you buy 10 of them and you have 5000 hives, you have what –1/100th of a percent of that? Those are the hives they’re going to steal,” Johnson explained. “That’s the problem.”
Farmers here have until January to draw up security plans, but odds are the help and honey delivered by these hives will be stung by another year of poaching from California’s bee bandits.
According to the Bee Keepers Association, this year alone an estimated 1,600 beehives have been stolen.