ORLAND — One of the busiest hives in the honeybee industry may be local, but its reach is far and wide.
Olivarez Honey Bees Inc. sits in west Orland along Interstate 5 and has been operating since 1982.
Husband and wife Ray and Tammy Olivarez and the couple’s friend, Dan Cummings, own the Glenn County business, which produces queens and packages of bees that are shipped throughout the U.S., Canada and other parts of the world.
“Our bees are all over the place,” Tammy Olivarez said.
Olivarez Honey Bees is only one of the dozens of companies in the Sacramento Valley that are in the multimillion-dollar bee industry, but it’s one of the largest and most active.
Olivarez Honey Bees keeps about 10,000 to 11,000 hives going year round that are spread out from Willows, to the Chico Municipal Airport, to Redding, field supervisor Kevin Wentz said.
Since the company’s start, the owners have ventured out to North Dakota, Hawaii and Montana.
Part of the starting success of Olivarez Honey Bees is its location. The valley is a microclimate, Tammy Olivarez said. This is where people can find the most queen producers in the U.S. because of the optimal conditions.
In Orland, Olivarez Honey Bees focuses on queen and package — a queen plus about three pounds of bees — production from the end of March to the first week of May to take advantage of the benefits of operating in Northern California.
Olivarez Honey Bees produces Italian bees, a mild bee that is better in warm weather, and Carniolan, which are darker bees that are better at producing honey in colder weather. The queens are bred for gentleness, hygiene and color, Tammy Olivarez said.
The company works with a team of researchers based out of Oroville to produce the best breed of bees, because “whatever we’re sending out is going to affect the whole beekeeping industry,” she said.
Because the owners expanded operations to Hawaii, it is also one of the only companies in the U.S. that sells queen bees year round.
The bees are also a buzz during their stay in the local community.
Olivarez Honey Bees runs pollination services at the start of February when the almond season starts, Wentz said.
In Montana, the bees are busy producing honey the company sells at wholesale.
Diversifying and running operations outside of Glenn County came as a response to the industry’s ongoing struggles to keep bees alive. “Keeping the bees healthy has been our biggest hurdle,” Wentz said.
The company expanded to Montana for its natural forage, not for honey production, Tammy Olivarez said. Montana has open fields and people use fewer pesticides.
The bees are trying to forage here, but there isn’t enough food so the bees are given substitutes to stimulate them and keep them healthy, Wentz said.
“Artificial food is the equivalent of eating junk food the entire day,” Tammy’s son, Ryan Olivarez, said. “It’s like living off candy bars.”
Last year, natural disasters added to the company’s ongoing battles. A drought and fires caused Olivarez Honey Bees more money than what it brought in.
“It was a catastrophe last year,” Tammy said.
The disaster led the company to expand once more to North Dakota.
Olivarez Honey Bees can make some of the money back by being so diversified, Wentz said.
However, that’s not the case for all producers who can incur a 15 to 30 percent loss.
The Orland company frequently helps smaller businesses by providing the bees to rebuild after they take losses, Wentz said.
The Olivarez Honey Bees office is active all year long getting calls and orders.
Right now, beekeepers are winding down for the year, but “we’re rolling 24/7,” Wentz said.
It’s a lot of pressure to provide and help outside operations survive, Tammy Olivarez said.
This year, a new pesticide is thought to have ruined the first graft of queen bees being produced.
“They were all dead,” Ryan Olivarez said. “It was terrifying.”
Situations such as that one ripple down to awaiting customers who can potentially miss their window to get their hives going and put them out of business.
People don’t realize this area is keeping the U.S. and Canada’s bee industries in business, Tammy Olivarez said.
However, despite the pressure to keep the industry going, there is satisfaction in knowing how thankful customers are.
For the company and its employees, it’s also the love of the winged insect that motivates them.
Bees can’t be taken for granted, Wentz said. They play a major role that can affect everything down the road.