Today the four major U.S. hothouse tomato growers use commercially reared bumblebees to pollinate crops. A single greenhouse can be as large as 20 acres and contain 200,000 plants and 23,000 commercially reared bees. According to a hothouse tomato industry report, growers spend up to $2,000 per acre on importing bumblebees. In 2001, 309 million pounds of hothouse tomatoes were grown on 718 acres nationwide.
Strange is trying to find ways to raise local species of bumblebees in captivity so agriculture can use locals instead of the East Coast imports, a technique that involves tricking pregnant bumblebee queens into ending their winter hibernation early.
So far, he has managed to trick one West Coast species into nesting this way. "So it seems like it is possible," Strange said.