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Making Almond Orchards Better for Bees

By hillary sardinas on 21. June 2017
hillary sardinas

Almonds rely on bees for pollination. The crunchy, highly nutritious nuts are the earliest flowering crop in California’s Central Valley, transforming bare fields into a facsimile of a winter wonderland, with white blossoms coating the branches and the ground.

To meet the pollination demands of these billions of blooms, farmers import millions of honey bees: Nearly 90% of all the honey bee colonies in the US, and more from around the world, journey to California every February.

Yet honey bees are facing numerous threats that cause beekeepers to routinely lose over 30% of their hives annually.


aerial view of almond groves in bloom
It isn’t frost, but flowers covering these groves of almonds in California’s Central Valley. Photo: Gani Pinero for Häagen-Dazs


Fortunately, flower-rich habitat can help support ailing honey bee populations by providing additional nutrition. Most almonds are grown in a monoculture, leaving little for bees to forage on before or after bloom. When farmers provide habitat within and around orchards, bees have a buffet of options that keep them healthy during almond pollination and until they are moved to the next crop that requires their services.

There are numerous habitat types capable of supporting pollinators without impacting crop production. Hedgerows of flowering native shrubs provide excellent bee habitat around farm perimeters, and cover crops planted between tree rows bring flowers into the heart of the orchards. This means bees gain the resources they need and supply pollination services to crops without farmers having to give up any cropland, a true win-win.


almond grove pollinator habitat
Flowers today … and tomorrow. By providing flowering cover crops and permanent hedgerows, bees will have the resources the need when orchards aren’t in bloom. Photos: (L) Gani Pinero for Häagen-Dazs, (R) Xerces Society / Jessa Kay Cruz 


Habitat to Help Bees

In Chowchilla, deep in the heart of the California Central Valley, pollinator habitat is taking root. Harris Family Farm, which supplies all of the almonds in Häagen-Dazs ice creams, has been planting miles of flowering hedgerows—6.5 miles, to be exact.

The goal of this impressive hedgerow project is to provide habitat for both honey bees and native bees—who are also excellent almond pollinators in their own right—within and around the almond orchards.

Häagen-Dazs has been funding research in support of bees and pollinators for nearly a decade, and identified almonds as a key crop they could transform into a sustainably sourced ingredient that directly supports pollinators. More than two years ago, they brought in pollinator conservation experts from the Xerces Society to help take the program from an idea to reality. Now, with the help of Xerces, they’ve installed one of the largest privately funded pollinator habitats on a supply farm.


hedgerow installation and pollinator sign
6.5 miles of flowering hedgerows are being installed to support bees and other pollinators at Harris Family Farm, which supplies all of the almonds used in Häagen-Dazs ice cream products. Photos: Gani Pinero for Häagen-Dazs


In addition to hedgerows, Häagen-Dazs is working with Harris Family Farms to plant a flowering understory between their rows of almond trees, extending habitat deep into the orchards and making them more hospitable to bees. They have also assessed their pesticide use and are adopting pesticide mitigation strategies in order to protect pollinators from exposure to high risk pesticides, which helps the farm meet the requirements of the Production Standards of Bee Better Certified™, the newly launched farm and food certification program.

This work demonstrates the dedication of Häagen-Dazs and the Harris family to this critical issue and place both at the forefront of the sustainable sourcing movement. To reinforce this, Harris Family Farms is planning to apply for Bee Better certification this fall. The Häagen-Dazs ice creams flavors in which their almonds are used can then proudly carry the Bee Better Certified seal into stores around the country, one of the first brands to do so.


ice cream bar with almonds
Harris Family Farms is planning to apply for Bee Better Certification this fall. Häagen-Dazs products containing almonds may be the first to feature the Bee Better Certified seal.


Almonds are just the first step. Approximately 40% of Häagen-Dazs products contain insect-pollinated ingredients, from chocolate and coffee to mango and strawberry. The company is continuing to work with Xerces to identify additional ingredients where they can take action to promote Bee Better practices.

Any farm can be part of the Bee Better Certified program. Large or small, organic or conventional, every farm can meet the requirements and become certified. For more information, check out the information on the Bee Better Certified website.


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