Preliminary Figures Suggest Honey Harvest From Bee Colonies Could Be Up In 2019 In California

Catch The Buzz By Christine Souza - California Farm Bureau June 24, 2019

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CENTRAL VALLEY – It’s a “mixed box” when it comes to beekeeper expectations regarding this season’s honey crop. Some beekeepers report that winter weather brought plenty of forage for honeybees to feast on this year, and others say uneven citrus bloom in some areas may affect honey production.

Although no formal statewide honey production figures are expected to be released for a few months, individual beekeepers report that the amount of honey they will extract from bee colonies could be up this year.

“We’re expecting that the honey crop should be significantly better than the last five to seven years at least because of all of the rain,” said Imperial County apiarist Brent Ashurst of Westmoreland, president of the California State Beekeepers Association. “For everyone, the weather has been beneficial because of all of the additional food sources for the bees, and it really makes our job easier because the bees can do what they are supposed to do.”

Beekeepers point out that in recent years, factors such as the ongoing drought and lack of forage, Varroa mites and exposure to crop-protection materials, have taken a toll on the bees, resulting in bee losses for many beekeepers. But the moisture and precipitation this season has led to diverse forage for honeybees, including an abundant mix of plants and wildflowers that bees depend on for quality nutrition.

Ashurst said he does not rely on honey as an income “because it’s feast or famine; there are some years we make a decent amount of honey, and some years we don’t.”

“Where we are located (in Southern California), a good year is 12 pounds of honey per colony. Whereas at a honey-producing area like Montana, they might be getting 120 pounds per colony, so 12 pounds is pretty insignificant,” Ashurst said.

This season, due to the favorable weather, Ashurst has honeybees placed in sage locations in Temecula and Escondido.

“What we’re hoping to get is a sage (honey) crop because finally we got some rain. We don’t know what that crop is going to look like until we take it off in June,” said Ashurst, who added that many beekeepers can sell honey for the wholesale price of $2 a pound, or filter and bottle the honey for farmers market sales and make about $10 a pound.

Stanislaus County beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson said “honey production in California has over the years decreased, but this year, we’re looking for a little bump up in honey production for the state.”

For the past few days, Johnson has extracted sage honey, calling the variety “one of the premium honeys in the world.”

“The bees are still in the sage and will probably make another box by the time they come out by June,” Johnson said. “We only make a good sage crop in extremely wet years. This year we had a lot of moisture. It wasn’t as much as 2017, but it came at the right time and the plants are producing.”

With his honeybees placed in sage locations near Hollister and Pinnacles, Johnson recalls beekeepers had large sage honey crops in 2017 and 2010. Johnson sells honey direct to local customers from his warehouse.

“A lot of my customers, other than the family that wants a jar or two, are those interested in selling honey at farmers markets, so they will come with their 5-gallon buckets and purchase direct from me,” Johnson said. “l might have one person come and get a quart jar and another person come get about 30 gallons.”

Many beekeepers have recently moved bees out of the state’s citrus groves near Tulare County and are busy pollinating other crops.

Tulare County beekeeper and citrus grower Roger Everett of Terra Bella Honey Co. said, “We just got done pulling hives from the citrus groves and now we’re trying to get to the next pollination job.”

Transporting honeybee colonies to pollinate watermelons in Kern County, Everett said he likely won’t open a hive to extract citrus honey until late May or early June.

“I don’t know if the hives are all heavy or sort of heavy. I just know there’s a stack of pallets with hives that just came out of the citrus that need to be ran through a machine and we’ll see what we get,” Everett said.

The citrus bloom was hit and miss, Everett said, adding, “Bloom was really weird on the citrus; some fields had heavy bloom and some hardly bloomed at all. That’s how much variation there’s been, at least in Tulare County.”

Related to the orange honey crop, Everett said, “I think it’s going to be a little off again compared to previous years or the expectation over the past few years with the rain we’ve been getting.”

Honey production has been declining in California in recent years, Johnson said, although he said the state is among the top 10 honey-producing states.

“At one time, California was the second- or third-leading honey-producing state in the nation. Production is now about 40-pounds per hive, where before it was closer to 60 pounds a hive,” said Johnson, who noted that changing diversity among irrigated crops has affected honey production.

Beekeepers say that for much of their income, they rely on revenue from pollination, such as from pollinating almonds and other crops.

“Definitely, we’ve got to have the almond pollination income,” Johnson said.

A report on U.S. honey released in February, by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, found that American appetite for honey is growing. In 2017, Americans consumed 596 million pounds of honey or about 1.82 pounds of honey per person, a 65% increase in consumption since 2009. In addition, the report noted that the U.S. honey sector in 2017 was responsible for more than 22,000 jobs and had total economic output of $4.75 billion.

The state apiary sector will know more about this season’s honey crop in a few months, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service is expected to release its annual honey report for 2018 this week. The report includes information about honey producing colonies, honey-production and price by color class.

Bee Informed Partnership - BIP - Leads to Healthy Hives

California Farm Bureau Federation    By Christine Souza    February 26, 2016

Bee Informed Partnership – BIP – Leads to Healthy Hives - BUZZ

Bee Informed Partnership crop protection agents Robert Snyder and Ben Sallmann, above, collect samples of bees from colonies at an almond orchard in Dixon. Once bees are tested, the results can help beekeepers make informed decisions about treatment of the hives and lead to improved bee genetics.

Photo/Christine Souza

Commercial beekeepers, who have moved honey bees into California almond orchards for pollination, say they remain concerned about whether they will be able to continue to supply growers with enough healthy bees to meet the future needs of pollination and remain profitable.

Impacts including drought-related reductions in forage, added mite and disease pressures, and unintended exposure to crop-protection materials have contributed to bee losses reported throughout the nation. To combat these challenges, beekeepers have emphasized the need for improved research, including work being conducted in orchards this winter by the Bee Informed Partnership, a collaboration by leading research laboratories and universities to better understand honey bee health.

At the start of pollination season, commercial beekeeper and bee breeder Jonathan Hofland of Dixon received a visit from the Bee Informed Partnership Tech Transfer Team, represented by field agents Robert Snyder and Ben Sallmann. The duo, based at the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Butte County, visits a select group of commercial beekeepers to sample colonies, looking for pests and diseases and to assist in stock selection.

“It’s about the long-term and good genetics in our bee supply,” Hofland said. “We’re queen breeders, so the tech team is an impartial data collector; they analyze our bees and can tell us if they see problems. Having the bees tested dramatically increases overall survival.”

Hofland added that the tech team looks for flaws in hives that he is selecting for future breeding, which helps him find the best breeding stock and improves his bees’ genetic line.

“What they do is an indirect connection to almonds,” he said, “but many queen breeders work with the tech team and breed queens for others that bring bees into the almonds.”

Sallman said the team looks at what factors might be killing a hive, such as whether varroa mites are transmitting viruses that can be more harmful than damage caused by the mites themselves. Drought and resulting lack of forage worsens the mite situation, he said, because bee colonies become weaker and the mites “tend to get a better foothold when colonies are struggling in other ways.”

“A lot of what we do is sampling for the varroa mite. It’s the biggest problem that the beekeepers are facing and is a constant battle,” Sallmann said. “Due to the density of bees, everything is packed so close together that there’s a lot of reinfestation. It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole—one beekeeper treats over here and then the other beekeeper doesn’t and mites are reproducing, then the colonies start to decline and the mites take over.”

Through the Bee Informed Partnership, data collected by tech teams across the country provide beekeepers with knowledge to make timely management decisions to maintain healthy colonies. Samples collected by the tech teams are sent to the bee diagnostic team at the University of Maryland. Reports provide general information about how bees are faring in various parts of the country, while ensuring individual beekeeper information remains confidential.

The almond bloom, which typically occurs from mid-February to mid-March, came a little earlier than usual this year due to warm February temperatures, though recent rains caused some growers to consider fungicide applications.

“It’s been kind of wet and rainy, so hopefully the weather will stabilize so that pollination can actually happen, since bees can’t forage when it is raining. Hopefully, we’ll have enough bees to pollinate everything,” UC Davis extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño said.

An estimated 1.8 million honeybee colonies are needed to pollinate the state’s growing almond crop, and Niño said early indications are that there might be fewer colonies available this season.

“Beekeepers are saying that there are higher bee losses than they were expecting and I’ve been hearing more about higher varroa mite loads,” Niño said. “Last year, the season started quite early so that could have given the mites extra time to produce one or two additional generations. Plus, beekeepers have to treat more often for mites, which gets me thinking about resistance development.”

The season may have started with a slight increase in the number of hives, yet once beekeepers lose bees they must split one hive into two, which requires them to “put more into the hives, whether it is feeding them or treating them, so there are increased inputs into the hive to keep it alive,” Niño said.

“If you lose 40 percent of your bees, you have to make up for those by splitting the remaining hives,” she said. “(When) you take a frame of brood out of a hive to split the hive, that automatically costs you about two frames of honey that you won’t make from that colony now because it has less of a workforce. You are losing some of that honey crop.”

Gordon Wardell, bee biologist for Paramount Farming Co., said some beekeepers are reporting bee losses between 40 percent and 60 percent. In general, beekeepers say rental prices have risen this year to the $170-185 range, or $10-15 more than rental prices seen last year.

Wardell serves as board chairman for Project Apis m., a nonprofit organization dedicated to honey bee research, and called efforts to bring nearly 2 million pollination-strength colonies into California for the almond bloom “a testament to the proficiency and tenacity of our nation’s commercial beekeepers.”

In another initiative aimed at improved honey bee health, the Bayer Crop Science Division announced last week it is partnering with Project Apis m. to sponsor a multi-year, $1 million research effort with Bayer-funded research grants focused on an economic assessment of the cost of commercial beekeeping; creating best management practices for commercial beekeeping based on colony health performance; evaluating the use of “smart hive” technology to monitor bee health during commercial migratory operations; and assessing honey bee genetics.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Experts Discuss Ways to Boost Honeybee Forage   By Christine Souza  11/13/13

November 13, 2013 - At a first-of-its-kind meeting in Sacramento, beekeepers, farmers and representatives of public and private organizations gathered to discuss how to improve honeybee populations by allowing beekeepers access to more sources of bee forage.

During the meeting, held last week at the California Farm Bureau Federation, beekeepers and bee experts said increased access to forage on both public and privately managed lands would promote the long-term health and sustainability of managed honeybee populations.

California State Beekeepers Association President John Miller, a beekeeper from Newcastle, described the past 30 years in the bee business as "tumultuous."

"We're at a juncture here where we must address some fundamental issues of forage and access," Miller said...