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Someone is stealing bees in California and hurting those who tend to the almond crop

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Updated February 21, 2019 01:23 PM EST

By AMICIA RAMSEY, KMPH

VISALIA, Calif. (CIRCA via KMPH) — There are millions of bees in California's Central Valley to help the almond bloom this season, but thieves are also trying to get their hands on the precious hives.

So far, the Tulare County Sheriff's Office says two beekeepers have already taken a big loss in stolen beehives.

Last week, nearly 200 beehives were reported stolen from almond orchards in Visalia. The sheriff's office says hives were stolen from Gunter Honey and SP Godlin Apiaries beekeeping companies.

Following the theft, the California State Beekeepers Association issued a bee theft alert, warning bee handlers and growers to be vigilant.

Mike Tolmachoff is a beekeeper in Madera. He says despite preventative efforts, bee theft is one type of "parasite" he and many of his beekeeper friends say they can't avoid.

"The financial loss, of course, takes a great toll. We are working hard just like any other human being out there to make ends meet financially," said Tolmachoff.

The loss of even a couple of hives can put a serious dent in the pockets of beekeepers.

Tolmachoff says the value of one beehive can range from $200 to $500, depending on the season.

"If it is stolen right now during the bloom, the grower might say, 'I'm not paying you.' That's an immediate loss for us," said Tolmachoff.

He also says a broken agreement because of stolen hives could lead to thousands of dollars in future losses as well.

"If the bees are not there or it was a weak hive, stolen or not there at all from a shortage, the grower is certainly going to be harmed," Tolmachoff said.

Tolmachoff says other beekeepers could also be to blame for the thefts.

"Maybe they have their own contract with a grower and have had a lot of (bee) loss, and they are trying to protect their contract. So, they can steal somebody else's bee hives to make that profit," said Tolmachoff.

The CSBA is offering its members a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest for those responsible for stealing the beehives.

BY AMICIA RAMSEY, KMPH

MADERA, Calif. (CIRCA via KMPH) — Millions of bees are now spread out across almond orchards in California's Central Valley as part of the world's largest controlled pollination.

Central Valley Beekeeper Association President Jason Kuyper says there aren't enough honeybees in the Central Valley, and beekeepers from out of state are used as resources to help in almond season.

"There is no way we can maintain 2 million beehives in the state of California. We have one of the lowest percentages of beehives that are maintained throughout the year because we have a lot of drought and other issues to deal with," said Kuyper.

Which cereal are you?

Commercial beekeeper Mike Tolmachoff purchased 1,300 beehives, each of them holding up to 60,000 honey bees from Florida. He wasted no time to unpack hundreds of boxes filled with millions of bees. Tolmachoff says he lost up to 80 percent of his bee colonies this winter to factors he says were beyond his control. He says bees can be eaten by parasites, get diseases or be killed by pesticides.

"What keeps me going is passion. God created this little insect that does so much for us. Without this insect, we wouldn't have all this food we enjoy," said Tolmachoff.

To make up for his loss, Tolmachoff bought hundreds of queen bees to get his colonies going again and fulfill his contract with almond growers. Without honey bees, the beekeeper says the U.S. would effectively lose one-third its crops.

"Bees are really vital for our food supply throughout the nation. Almond crops are vital to the Valley. We are supplying 90 percent of our almonds to the nation and the world," said Kuyper.

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