Mandarin growers enjoy 'net gains'

Bees play a very important role in producing many crops but in some instances they're unwanted guests.
April 4, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Bees play a very important role in producing many crops but in some instances they're unwanted guests. Valley growers go to great lengths to get those sweet little mandarin oranges to market.

The use of white netting has become much more common in recent years. Those who grow mandarins said the protective measures add to their net gains.

The ghostly images catch your eye even when they blend in with the cloudy skies. Across the Valley more and more mandarin orange orchards have been covered with long rows of netting.

It really looks like spiders came by and covered the trees with giant spider webs. People who pass by have their own opinions. Clovis grower James McFarlane has heard it all. He explained, "This fellow thought it might be for bird exclusion which I could understand. I've heard we're trying to keep the sun off them which a little bit nonsensical."

Birds must be freed from time to time but the real reason for the netting is to establish a no-fly zone for bees. McFarlane said, "Soccer moms don't like to buy mandarins with seeds in them."

Cross-pollinating bees can turn a seedless crop into fruit full of seeds. "We're here next to town and there's a lot of people with backyard valencia trees or lemon trees. If a bee flies from that flower to this flower carrying seeded pollen there's a pretty good chance it's going to induce a seed in one of these mandarin oranges."

To be sold as seedless, a mandarin crop can have no more than one seeded fruit per 10 piece sample. The persistent bees though can't get enough of the sweet smelling pollen. Holes in the nets must be repaired with plastic twist ties. Workers turned dirt onto the bottom of the nets to prevent other openings. McFarlane said, "It's an enormous pain I can't stress that enough."

Still, James said it's worth the effort and cost. "I think for all 40 acres here it cost us something like $75,000." But growers get a lot more money for seedless mandarins. "You talk about that amount of fruit at say a 50% price difference it pays for itself right now."

The nets must go up during the blossom period which lasts about a month. McFarlane said, "It's kind of like birth control. There's no use doing it after the fact."

James McFarlane started using nets last year because the industry has put a premium on seedless mandarins -- that is what consumers want.


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