Honey prices are too sweet for beekeepers

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

SIKESTON -- Current honey prices are just too sweet for beekeepers these days and they're hoping it's the first of many price increases for farmers of all trades.

"This is just the beginning with honey," predicted State Apiculture Specialist and beekeeper Ray Nabors of Portageville. "I think it's just a matter of time before all the other crops follow suit."

Currently honey sells for approximately $2 per pound in stores, Nabors said. Tariffs were placed on Argentine and Chinese exports last year, helping U.S. producers battle cheap foreign honey prices.

"Beekeepers are surprised about the prices -- not that they don't need the money," Nabors said. "They're glad commodity prices are up."

Beekeeper Kenny Bloyd of East Prairie agrees higher prices are great, but adds there are other things to consider.

"The price is good right now, yes, but it's producing the honey that's been a problem," said Bloyd, who's been in the honey business for 40 years.

Because area cotton farmers have experienced problems with boll weevils, they're spraying insecticides on their crops, trying to kill the boll weevils and it's killing the bees, too, Bloyd explained.

Like other farmers who have a troubled season, beekeepers are also subsidized by the government if needed. Some people don't like subsidies, but if government subsidies aren't used, then consumers have to pay the price in the grocery store, Nabors said.

High prices aren't completely good for the beekeeper because other sweeteners exist, Bloyd pointed out. Beekeepers may lose some of the market because of the higher price of honey, and consumers might decide to use less honey or buy substitutes, he added.

Most of the area's bees gather nectar off of cotton and soybeans because there aren't as many wildflowers around here, Bloyd said.

A bee will travel several thousand miles and visit more than two million flowers just to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey. In addition to gathering nectar to make honey, bees perform the service of pollination, or fertilization, of a flowering plant.

Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from the anthers of a flower to the ovules of that or another flower. Bees pollinate a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and more. Thirty percent of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants. Honeybees are responsible for about 80 percent of this pollination.

There has been a world-wide shortage of honey for quite some time and a fewer number of beekeepers, Nabors reminded, adding that the number of beekeepers today is half the number of beekeepers in 1980.

Very few young people are choosing the beekeeping vocation these days, Bloyd noted. They don't want to spend their time taking care of bees and working in 90-degree temperatures.

"The Bootheel produces more honey than any area in Missouri," Nabors said. "The amount of honey produced in the area makes up about 20 percent of the state total," he estimated.

Nabors also said the Bootheel has more beehive keepers per land area than any where in the state. Due to an area tightly packed with bees, the Missouri Department of Agriculture limits the number of beekeepers in a territory.

However, Nabors encourages anyone interested in the beekeeping business to pursue the trade. He suggested visiting local extension offices and obtaining the University of Missouri Guides 7600 and 7601. These guides discuss beginning the beekeeping business and management in Missouri.

"Start it at a hobby status," Nabors recommended. "Start small, with about two or three colonies and expand later."

Acquire a teacher and a mentor, too, Nabors noted. "A teacher can help you with the equipment and a mentor is someone you can go to other than your teacher for advice. Start in the spring, around the end of April," he added.

For now, though, current beekeepers will continue to keep busy and enjoy their sweet times.

What would be ideal, Bloyd said, was a nice, level market. "But this market is always up and down," he said. "You just never know what to expect."

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