Diverse Bee Forage Could Lead To Good Honey Crop

AgAlert By Christine Souza May 15, 2019

Stanislaus County beekeeper Orin Johnson tends to beehives near Hollister. He says he is optimistic that the season’s moisture and precipitation will lead to a good honey crop for California apiarists. In recent years, the drought, a lack of diverse forage and the Varroa mite have made it difficult for beekeepers and resulted in honeybee losses. Photo/courtesy Orin Johnson

Stanislaus County beekeeper Orin Johnson tends to beehives near Hollister. He says he is optimistic that the season’s moisture and precipitation will lead to a good honey crop for California apiarists. In recent years, the drought, a lack of diverse forage and the Varroa mite have made it difficult for beekeepers and resulted in honeybee losses. Photo/courtesy Orin Johnson

  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.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.


Bee Theft Pick Up as Almond Bloom Begins

Western Farm Press   By Todd Fitchette    February 2, 2016    

The annual push to get about 1.8 million colonies of bees to pollinate California’s almond crop is a necessary and profitable relationship between the beekeeper and the grower.

It’s a time of the year when upwards of 90 percent of all the managed bees in the United States are clustered into one relatively small region.

Sadly it is also a profitable time for more nefarious activities.

Continue reading (Crime victim speaks out and includes Tips): http://westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/bee-thefts-pick-almond-bloom-begins?page=3

More Beekeepers Sour on Profession as Winter Die-Offs Continue

 The Wall Street Journal   By Tennille Tracy  January 23, 2015

Rising Cost of Doing Business Takes Toll on Industry that Pollinates $15 Billion of Crops 

Orin Johnson, a second-generation beekeeper in California, has started to consider a life without his 500 colonies of honey bees.

At 67, he doesn’t work as fast as he once did, and yet his bees require greater amounts of time and money to maintain. A near constant barrage of threats, from pesticides to parasites, wiped out more than half of Mr. Johnson’s colonies last year.

“The costs are just getting out of hand,” he said. “I’m getting tired of it.”

Plenty of Mr. Johnson’s colleagues are in the same boat. Increasing numbers of beekeepers, who are generally in their 50s and 60s, are considering early retirement or are being forced out of business as honey bees continue to die at alarming rates.

For nearly a decade, beekeepers have been losing roughly 30% of their bees each winter, above the 19% depletion rate they say is sustainable, according to the Bee Informed Partnership, a group funded by the Agriculture Department to study bee health. While beekeepers can replenish their colonies by splitting and repopulating healthy hives, it is hard for them to recoup the costs of doing so.

“We’re not worried about the bees going extinct,” said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland. “We’re worried about the beekeepers going extinct.”

The government doesn’t track employment statistics on commercial beekeepers, but the White House cited particular concern over the fate of professional beekeepers when it created a task force in June to address bee deaths.

Tim Tucker, president of the American Beekeeping Federation and a beekeeper in Kansas, said the number of professional beekeepers on its membership roster has fallen by at least half in the last two decades.

A dwindling supply of beekeepers is troubling for U.S. agriculture. Honey bees pollinate more than $15 billion of crops each year, including almonds, apples and cherries, and are responsible for pollinating one-third of the American diet. Without enough beekeepers, U.S. crop production could slow, forcing consumers to pay more for their food or rely more heavily on imported items.

Almond growers, who rely almost exclusively on honey bees for pollination, have seen the price of bee rentals increase 30% since 2006. Paramount Farms in California, one of the country’s largest almond growers, has started to look for beekeeping operations it can own independently to ensure a steady supply of pollinators as times get tougher for beekeepers.

The honey bee crisis dates back to at least 2006, when beekeepers first reported a troubling phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. Adult bees were simply vanishing from their hives, leaving behind the younger bees, the queen and the honey.

There are now about 2.5 million honey-producing colonies, according to the Agriculture Department. That is about flat from 15 years ago, but masks the fact that the total number of large commercial beekeepers has fallen by at least several hundred, while the number of small hobbyists has grown, Mr. Tucker said. The colony total is down from 6 million in the 1940s.

There are signs this winter will bring more hefty losses, Mr. Tucker said. He lost nearly 40% of his colonies between September and November.

It is still unclear what is killing the bees. Scientists blame a combination of parasites, pesticides and poor nutrition, among other factors, but haven’t determined a single cause.

The Varroa mite, a blood-sucking parasite that weakens bees and brings diseases into the hive, is a common culprit. At the Department of Agriculture’s bee laboratory in Beltsville, Md., scientists routinely dissect and inspect dead bees, sent to them by beekeepers nationwide, looking for signs of the mite.

“If we could remove the Varroa mite from the equation, we’d be back at a sustainable level of loss,” said Jay Evans, a research entomologist at the Agriculture Department.

With so many potential threats to their bees, veteran beekeepers say their job has gotten increasingly expensive and complex.

The annual cost of maintaining a hive has quadrupled in the last 15 years, Mr. Tucker said. It now costs about $230,000 a year for a professional beekeeper running a modest 2,000 hives. Expensive items include mite treatments and protein supplements that support the bees’ diet as natural forage options dwindle.

Jim Doan, a third-generation beekeeper in New York state, was forced to sell his 112-acre farm in 2013, after losing most of his bees several years in a row. He tried to bounce back, buying new hives and diligently trying to ward off pests and disease, but nothing worked. Mr. Doan blames pesticides for the death of his bees. “I love the bee business, but I don’t see a future in the bee business,” he said.

For now, beekeepers say they are being kept afloat by high honey prices, which reached a record $2.12 a pound in 2013, according to the most recent government data, and the lucrative pollination fees they receive from farmers.

Read at and view comments: http://www.wsj.com/articles/more-beekeepers-sour-on-profession-as-winter-die-offs-continue-1422057396