The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Field Guide to Beekeeping

Beekeeping Rules and Regulations

- June 1, 2016 - Jamie Ellis - (excerpt)

Beekeeping is a dynamic industry for some and a part-time hobby for others. It is a diverse enterprise, one that allows its practitioners to be doctors (diagnosing colony maladies), carpenters (assembling hive equipment), botanists (knowing bloom cycles), farmers (honey producers and crop pollination providers), and even business men/women (managing employees and marketing one’s products), all among other jobs. Given the multifaceted business that is beekeeping, you might guess that many components of beekeeping are regulated by local, state, and federal authorities.

In this article, I will provide a brief overview of the types of regulations that beekeepers find are a normal part of life. When I originally conceptualized this document, I thought that I would go into great detail, explaining all of the types of regulations that beekeepers encounter, and listing, by state, the various rules and regulations. However, I then remembered that every region, state, nation, etc. is so different in its approach to beekeeping regulations that I would never be able to do justice to my original intent. Thus, I decided to provide a very general overview and tell you how you can find information related to the types of regulations under which your beekeeping efforts might fall.

Make no mistake, some part of your beekeeping life is regulated, even if you do not realize that it is. Do you plan to extract, bottle and sell honey? If so – is your honey house licensed and inspected yearly? Does your state require you to register your bees? If so – did you? Are you keeping bees in an area that is not zoned for beekeeping? If so – are you following the correct rules? Does your home owner’s association permit beekeeping in your neighborhood? These are the types of questions that you must consider when jumping into the world of beekeeping. Herein, I broadly classify the type of regulations you might encounter, and then tell you what those regulations generally entail.


State apiary inspection laws

State apiary inspection programs were created decades ago, many of them for the sole purpose of inspecting honey bee colonies for American foulbrood (AFB). American foulbrood was a major problem for beekeepers for many decades. However, the state inspection programs are largely responsible for bringing this terrible malady under control.

Some state apiary inspection programs are more robust than others. In Florida, for example, the state apiary inspection program is the largest in the U.S., with over 14 apiary inspectors dedicated to the registration and inspection of managed honey bee colonies. Other states may have only one or two apiary inspectors. Even then, the apiary inspector may be only assigned apiary inspection duties for a small fraction of their time, with other needs such as plant inspection taking precedent and consuming most of their time.

The danger in mentioning the range of services offered by apiary inspectors is that these services are not offered in every state, region, or country. Thus, some readers of this article might be disappointed to find that they have no apiary inspection programs available at all. If this is the case, state, regional and national beekeeper organizations can lobby their respective governments to encourage the creation of such a program.

As noted, state inspection rules vary by location and it is up to the beekeeper to know his/her local rules. For example, beekeepers in Florida, by law, must register their colonies with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry. In Florida, registration is mandatory. In many other places around the U.S., on the other hand, registration is voluntary, leading many beekeepers to question why they should register their bees with the state at all. To speak to that point, I think registration is useful, even if not mandatory, because it gives beekeepers an important source of information, assistance, representation, etc. Consequently, I recommend registering your bee colonies with whatever local/regional authority exists, if for nothing more than to show that you are making an effort to be compliant.

In the U.S., many state apiary inspection programs are managed by each state’s department of agriculture. There are a few states in which the apiary inspection programs are managed by the local land grant university. Either way, it is worth searching for these programs as they often serve as a wealth of