Beekeepers facing various challenges in 2019 as local law enforcement cracks down on thieves

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Between the stings, shrinking land and the threat of thieves, beekeeping in the Central Valley has its challenges.

"Seems like the only constant thing is change," said David Bradshaw. He owns Bradshaw Honey Farm in Visalia and has been working with bees for 45 years. He cares for 2,400 colonies, and the bees do everything from pollinating almonds and plums to producing honey along the coast.

Bradshaw says shrinking open land and a lack of resources is part of the challenge of owning an apiary in 2019.

"We're constantly traveling around looking for the best pasture for our bees, they're not much different from cattle. If there's no grass, you gotta find grass... The forage is getting harder and harder to find," he said.

Early in the year, beekeepers make their colonies available for farmers to use to help their crops. The colonies are rented for months at a time and places in boxes inside orchards until the pollination process is complete. This is when beekeepers also have to deal with thieves, some of whom are beekeepers themselves.

"Every year I get a certain amount stolen... all our hard work is to benefit some crook," Bradshaw said.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office has had four reported thefts through mid-March, with a total of 121 hives stolen for a loss of $51,000. Meanwhile, the Tulare County Sheriff's Office has seen three cases from February to early March, with a total loss over $35,000.

So far, the total is lower for TCSO than last year, when they had six cases. TCSO's Ag Unit can likely take some of the credit for that. The unit, which is made up of four detectives and a sergeant, is handpicked by Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and is filled with people who grew up in the world of agriculture.

"Any loss for these guys who go out and work all night long to make sure this work is getting done, this important work, we feel for them," said Sgt. Bobby Rader. "We try our hardest for them and give them our best each and every time."

TCSO recommends that beekeepers and others worried about agriculture theft use SmartWater, a water-like spray that's revealed under blacklight and can be used to trace criminals to the crime. For more on SmartWater, click here.

Despite the challenges the profession is facing, Bradshaw says he isn't planning to stop.

"This is the best job I've ever had."
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