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A commercial beekeeper is offering a $10,000 reward for the return of 80 bee hives stolen from an almond orchard just outside Waterford in Stanislaus County.

Darren Cox has 5,000 bee hives in his operation based in Utah. Thefts of bee hives are not unheard of because they are often left unattended for weeks at a time in orchards that rely on bees to pollinate their crops.

But this heist probably involved a flat-bed truck and a fork lift because there are four hives placed on a pallet.

“When you start stealing by the truckload, it’s a big setback,” said Cox.

He lost about $13,000 in rental fees on top of the value of the relatively new hives, meaning he took about a $50,000 hit.  The orchard owner was also stressed because it’s hard to find replacement hives.

Cox is the vice-president of the Honey Producers Association and says the biggest winter kill in the country’s history has caused a shortage of honey bees.

“It’s estimated at a 40 percent loss, which is conservative,” said Cox.

He says other beekeepers or perhaps even a desperate orchard owner might be responsible for the theft.  Cox says a beekeeper lost 450 hives to a thief earlier this year.

Cox says it’s unlikely that his hives were picked up by mistake by another beekeeper.  His equipment, including pallets, hives and the honeycomb frames inside are branded with his name “Cox” or the name of his operation “CVH.”

He says Ag inspection stations at California border crossings can help find his hives because hives are often transported across state lines.  For now he will lose the use of his hives during cherry and apple blossom seasons.