BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. - The almond harvest is now a golden opportunity for more than just farmers. Robbers are swarming local hives and taking off with precious cargo.
"They do it in a rural area like this, no traffic, no lights so it's easy," said Deputy Jay Freeman with the Butte County Sherrif's Office.
Freeman has worked about a dozen hive heists so far this year.
"Someone stealing hives can come into an area like this and they have the flatbed, the forklift, the right tools to move hives, and they can pick up these hundred hives and be outta here in ten minutes," he said.
The most recent incident happened in January when eight hives were stolen from Buzz's Bees in Richvale. The suspects are still at large.
"[The robbers] do it in a rural area like this, [with] no traffic, no lights so it's easy," Freeman said.
The Butte County Sheriff's Office said there have been roughly 500 hive thefts in the four months of 2019 statewide.
Action News Now headed to the queen bee capital of the world, Orland, to meet with beekeepers impacted by the situation.
"We estimate about a $1,000 per hive—which includes the cost of the future pollination, the honey crop, packaged bees as well," said John Klepps, a hive quality assurance manager with Olivarez Honey Bees.
"There is no insurance policy to cover the renter of the bees if those bees are stolen off their property, Klepps said. "And there is no insurance policy to cover the beekeeper for renting those bees out on that property."
Already, prices per hive are on the rise.
"If they are getting $200 a hive for pollination, next year it may be $210, $220," Klepps said.
And that cost, our sources say, will be passed down to anyone who buys bee-produced products.
"Once those hives are stolen, that actually affects and cripples the industry throughout the year, nationwide and possibly worldwide," Freeman said.
Freeman said that beekeepers will often lease bees to farmers in different states. Bees might be rented for almond pollination in Butte County during the spring and then be transported to Washington state to pollinate Apple trees, or Texas to produce honey. So when a hive is stolen, the ripple effect on produce prices can be enormous.
"It's hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars," Freeman said.
Anyone with information on the Richvale beehive thefts is asked to call the Butte County Sheriff's Office at 530-538-7322.