Cover Story

Insights Into Honey Pollination in the Pacific Northwest

- September 1, 2017 - Ramesh Sagili and Dewey M. Caron - (excerpt)

honey pollination in the pacific northwest

Honey bee pollination is vital for Pacific Northwest agriculture. The PNW region has a great diversity of crops and many of those crops are dependent on bee pollination including several fruits and vegetables. Understanding the pollination dynamics is important for beekeepers, growers and policy makers alike. To provide insights to these stakeholders, we have continued a pollination economics survey of beekeepers in the Pacific Northwest states (Oregon, Washington and Idaho), initiated by Dr. Burgett at Oregon State University in 1986.

The 25th Annual pollination report (2010) was published in Jan 14, 2011 Honey Market News. We published the information pertaining to the 26th pollination survey in April, 2012 (American Bee Journal). Further, the 30th pollination survey (year 2015) results were published in July, 2016 (American Bee Journal). Here we report the survey results from the 31st annual survey (Year 2016).

Pollination surveys were sent electronically and by snail mail to approximately 150 Oregon and Washington commercial beekeepers (managing 500 plus colonies) and semi-commercial beekeepers (managing 50 to 500 colonies). The Idaho Department of Agriculture sent the surveys to 144 beekeepers in Idaho. In 2016 survey we were able to utilize 39 returns from 27 commercial beekeepers (11 commercial Oregon beekeepers), that owned an average of 7,022 colonies/individual (simple average), and 10 survey responses from sideline beekeepers, who owned an average of 271 colonies/individual plus two small-scale beekeepers. These respondents managed a total of 154,483 colonies which represents 61% of the total USDA estimated honey bee colonies in the three PNW states (Oregon was represented by 65% of estimated colonies in Oregon). We believe that our results present a realistic snapshot of the pollination industry in the PNW.

The PNW pollination survey continues to illustrate the importance of honey bee pollination rental for the PNW beekeepers. Overall, the 39 respondents in this study reported 138 crop rental opportunities for 18 different available crops, constituting slightly more than 195,500 total colony rentals. Commercial PNW beekeepers averaged 5 rentals per individual (range of 1 to 10 rentals); the 10-semi-commercial beekeepers in this study averaged 2.5 rentals/individual. The commercial beekeepers reported 30% of their gross income from honey and 68% from pollination (2% from other products). The sideline beekeepers reported equal gross income from both honey and pollination.

Table 1 summarizes the total number of colonies rented for each crop, the total value of the rental (# colonies times fee reported by each individual for the crop indicated), weighted average fee (total rental value divided by number of rental colonies) and range in service fee reported by respondents. Sum of total value of pollination fee reported by respondents was slightly over $26.3 million from slightly more than 195,500 total rentals. The 2016 weighted average fee of rental colonies was $134.60, an increase of $6.10 over the previous year (Figure 1).

By far the largest rental fee generator for Oregon, Washington and Idaho beekeepers is California almond rental, which has been consistently the largest pollination opportunity for the past several survey years. Almond rentals were reported by all but 5 respondents (34 total respondents rented colonies to almonds). Total almond colony rentals were over 117,000 colonies, constituting 60% of total colony numbers. Rental fee in almonds ranged from $150 to $199, with weighted average of $185.70. This was an increase of $12.45 over the previous year. Total rental income was over $21.8 million ($21,805,167), accounting for 83% of the gross rental income of PNW beekeepers in 2016, for our survey respondents. In 2016, almonds and tree fruits combined accounted for 79% of all rentals and 91% of pollination income (Table 2).

Within the PNW region, tree fruits remain the top pollination opportunity for beekeepers (just under 42,000 colonies and more than $2.2 million gross income). The three fruit tree pollinations were pear, sweet cherries and apples. Pear pollination (12 individuals) accounted for rental of almost 14,000 colonies, apples (also 12 individual respondents) accounted for over 17,000 colony rentals and sweet cherries (15 beekeepers) used 10,000 plus colonies. If we exclude almonds, tree fruit represents 54% of total colony rentals within PNW states and 50% of gross income generated within the PNW states.

All crop rentals assessed in this survey had a large rental fee range. For example, reported rental price for ….