Pollination is probably the most stressful time for any almond grower in the Central Valley (I talked about their Breathless Anxiety before). No wonder that they are always looking for new ways to relieve pressure and to improve performance. Drugs, however, are not among them. But the white powder on the back of the truck in the picture is hardly any less sought after in certain circles at certain times of the year than the finest stardust in others.
These unadorned plastic bags hold a precious mix of fine sugar and high concentrations of almond pollen. Each bag is worth about a thousand dollars. During bloom, hundreds of pounds of this fertile white dust are blown into the air.
The idea is simple: by increasing the amount of pollen available in the orchard, the growers hope to increase the number of pollinated flowers, and with this the amount of almonds to harvest.
But blowing the pollen around won’t do. The grains still need to be delivered to the flowers by the bees. This is where the sugar comes in. It’s used as a carrier material for the pollen, but it also gets very sticky when exposed to moisture, so it helps to keep the pollen in the trees. And the bees like it.
Plus, and here one really must admire the almond growers’ ingenuity when it comes to securing pollination: the powder gets electrostatically charged when it leaves the machine. So it better sticks to the bees. Who then dutifully rub it onto the flowers. Who then dutifully produce more almonds. At least in theory.
I don’t know how efficient this method really is. But given the cost and the effort that the growers put into this, one would assume that there must be some benefit to it. Something more than psychological.