- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

VISALIA, Calif.

In this patchwork of fruit and nut fields in California’s citrus belt, honey and oranges don’t mix anymore. Growers of clementines and other seedless oranges gaining popularity among consumers say cross-pollination by bees is creating unwanted seeds in their crops. They want to establish no-fly zones to end the apian invasions.

But beekeepers aren’t buzzing off. For decades, their bees were tolerated in the sprawling orchards as they turned orange-blossom nectar into dependable honey crops. The beekeepers fear no-fly zones — established by keeping hives miles from orchards — could put them out of business.

“Half of my honey income is what I make in the oranges,” David Bradshaw, 50, said at the honey-processing operation started by his father, Howard Bradshaw, in the early 1970s. A couple miles away are newly planted clementine orchards.

The conflict comes as growers try to cash in on the growing national hunger for the convenience of seedless produce and beekeepers struggle to recover from years of erratic production caused by bad weather and mite-infested hives.

Watching nervously from the sidelines are growers of other crops who need healthy bees to pollinate their plants.

The National Honey Board’s chief executive, Bruce Boynton, said hives have suffered in recent years as dry weather kept flowers from blooming and outbreaks of parasitic mites infested bee larvae.

Losing access to orange groves would decrease honey yields even further and weaken bee colonies needed for pollinating other crops, he said.

“People are kind of watching this one because it could have a devastating effect across the country if beekeepers lose out on this issue,” Mr. Boynton said.

But major corporate growers such as Paramount Citrus Inc. and Sun Pacific Inc. have invested heavily in clementine and mandarin trees to meet demand for the easy-to-peel fruit that doesn’t produce mouthfuls of seeds.

Last year, about 18,500 acres in California were planted with the seedless varieties, up from about 7,000 acres three years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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