Economic Effects of Beekeeping in the U.S.
Honeybees are effective pollinators of many agricultural crops in the United States. They are needed to assure production of fruit in apple, almond, peach, nectarine and plum orchards, as well as field and row crops like berries, vegetables and forage plants. In addition, beekeepers harvest products like honey, beeswax, cerumen, propolis, royal jelly, bee venom and pollen from bees. From 1990 to 2010, diseases took their toll of the U.S. beekeeping industry, and like other methods of farming, beekeeping is generally declining in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of managed honeybee colonies has dropped from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million in 2010.
An estimated 30 percent of the national food supply is dependent on honeybee pollination, according to Christian Evans in "Natural News." Evans cites a Cornell University study which estimates that $14 billion of seed and fruit production in the U.S. is due to honeybee pollination. Beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest in 1999 charged $20 to $40 per hive for pollination services to orchardists and farmers, with the rate depending on the type of crop pollinated. Hive rentals provide about 65 percent of beekeepers' income. Some beekeepers migrate with their hives through the country, following seasonal agricultural needs from warm climate to temperate climate areas.
Economic Trends in Beekeeping
A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture evaluating apiculture (beekeeping) from 1982 to 2002 concluded that bee colony inventory declined more than 20 percent and the number of U.S. farms that included apiculture activity declined more than 70 percent. A shift occurred from smaller enterprises to larger farms. The highest number of apiculture farms exist in Appalachia, the Corn Belt and Northeast states, while the largest number of colonies exist in the Pacific, Northern Plains and Mountain states. Beekeepers were almost 90 percent white male with an average age of 55.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the following figures for 2009: 144.1 million pounds of honey were produced, with the average price per pound of $1.44. Andrew Schneider, in an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, states that 210,000 mostly hobbyist beekeepers and 1,500 commercial beekeepers were responsible for U.S. honey production in 2008. In 2010, domestic production is equal to about 60 percent of honey consumed annually in the U.S., with the balance being imported from Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and China. In 2001, the U.S. levied tariffs against Chinese honey to counter unsafe honey contaminated with antibiotics and insecticides and predatory trade practices, resulting in the Chinese honey laundering their products through other foreign countries to the U.S.
Economic Impact of Diseases
From 1990 to 2010, an Asian mite, Varroa destructor, has become a serious honeybee threat. This pinhead-sized mite sucks hemolymph (insect "blood") and also spreads viral pathogens. More than 90 percent of infested colonies die off. Another mite causing colony deaths is the tracheal mite, which appeared in Texas in 1984 and has become widespread. Mites live in the breathing tubes of honeybees and can cause colony death, especially in winter, if more than 30 percent of bees are infected. The most serious disease is colony collapse disorder, which appeared in 2006. Its cause is still unknown. It has seriously impacted the apiculture industry, with some beekeepers reporting the death of 30 to 90 percent of their colonies.
- . BioOne: Structure of the U.S. Beekeeping Industry 1892-2002
- Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas: Beekeeping/Apiculture
- U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service: Sugar and Sweeteners
- "Seattle Post-Intelligencer": U.S. Honey Producers Don't Have It Easy"; Andrew Schneider; December 31, 2008
- KARE11: Klobuchar Creates Buzz Over Chinese Honey Imports; John Croman; August 2010