Every spring, thousands of beehives are trucked into the San Joaquin Valley for a massive pollination of almond trees.
Now all that could change as plant scientists and farmers begin trials of self-pollinating almond trees that have been in development for years.
If it works, growers could save hundreds of thousands of dollars in pollination costs.
"That is like the Holy Grail," said Roger Duncan, a University of California pomologist in Stanislaus County.
Almonds are grown statewide on more than 600,000 acres, and it is not unusual for larger operations to spend more than $1 million to rent bees. To help shave that expense, plant breeders have spent more than a decade trying to develop an almond tree that can pollinate itself.
Those in the hunt to develop and market a self-pollinating almond tree include Craig Ledbetter, a U.S. Department of Agriculture geneticist; the University of California; and private breeders.
The concept is not new. Self-pollinating trees have been used in Spain for years. But Spanish almonds tend to have a hairy texture and a strong almond taste.