Local researchers develop self-pollinating almond trees

FRESNO, Calif. Local researchers have developed a self-pollinating almond tree, one which does not need bees to produce a crop. The almonds forming on trees at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Parlier represent a break in tradition.

Sections were bagged before bloom to ensure bees could not pollinate the blossoms but the trees still produce nuts. Researchers combined California almond characteristics with a Spanish self-pollinating variety.

Research Geneticist Craig Ledbetter says grower interest in this variety has spiked. Ledbetter said, "It's gotten a lot stronger due to the problems that we've had with bee availability and the expense of using bees in the orchards."

It's estimated 80-percent of all the bees in the U.S. are brought to California during the almond bloom to pollinate blossoms. But beekeepers continue to lose bees to an ailment known as Colony Collapse Disorder and growers are always looking at ways to save.

Fresno County Deputy Ag Commissioner Les Wright explained, "They spend, the growers spend about 150-250 dollars an acre in renting beehives for pollination."

Ledbetter began the project 17 years out of fears Africanized bees could kill off local hives. He said, "It was out of those concerns we really started the program. It's ironic that a different bee problem came up."

It will be a few years before the self-pollinating trees in Parlier are ready for commercial use. But the final product is similar in taste to the non-pareil variety grown in many local orchards.

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