The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – December 2023

- December 14, 2023 - (excerpt)

artwork found at the New Brunswick Botanical Garden in Edmundston, NB.
Division of Labor

Just thought I would share this picture of a cute piece of artwork we found at the New Brunswick Botanical Garden in Edmundston, NB.  Very cool depiction of the division of labor in the hive.


Clyde Dildine
Sisters, Oregon


Eugene responds:

Very cool, Clyde! Looks like you fit right in there. All you need is a pair of wings!


Commercial beekeeper? Or industrial beekeeper?

I have thoroughly enjoyed the series of monthly articles by Charles Linder on commercial beekeeping. I certainly appreciate the time and effort offered by Mr. Linder and the American Bee Journal in presenting the series of articles. It has been extremely informative and helpful and I think you guys have done an excellent job. Thanks.

In the June segment of the series Mr. Linder starts off on page 615 with the question, “What is a commercial beekeeper?” After following the series, I would contend that Mr. Linder is not a “commercial” beekeeper but an “industrial” beekeeper. I would agree with him that the definition of “commercial” is subjective, and so is that of “industrial.” However, as one with an engineering background, I would suggest that the two main defining differences are primarily the scope of work and secondarily the methods of operation. After considering these two issues I would place Mr. Linder securely in the “industrial” category.

Without going into a lot of detail, the number of hives managed, the territory covered (much of the U.S. and Canada), the market serviced (industrial agricultural pollination), and labor pool (foreign nationals working on H2A visas) all place Mr. Linder in an industrial category. Commercial operations would generally be smaller in size (less than 500 hives), service a local market, focus more on retail sales to the general public, and hire local workers (generally American citizens).

Maybe consideration needs to be given to changing the title to “A Year as an Industrial Beekeeper.” Yes, beekeeping, like every other occupation in the U.S., has been subject to significant changes in recent history. While most agricultural operations in the U.S. would currently fall into the industrial category, most people still view them as commercial operations. We could probably benefit from giving consideration to the impact that these changes have caused.

Forrest Clark, Jr.
Batesville, Mississippi


Eugene responds:

Thank you for reading, Forrest, and for your compliments. We have gotten quite a bit of positive feedback on the “Commercial Beekeeper” series.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines industrial as: “Of or relating to productive work, trade, or manufacture, esp. mechanical industry or large-scale manufacturing; (also) resulting from such industry.” Commercial it defines simply as “engaged in commerce; trading.”

As you can see, that doesn’t narrow things down much. Many, if not most, hobby beekeepers engage in commerce, selling surplus honey to local consumers, or bees or equipment to other beekeepers.

But where beekeeping is concerned, the distinctions are really about size, with operators grouped into three categories: hobby, sideline and commercial. The hobbyist is often considered to keep under 25 colonies, the commercial operator over 300, and the sideliner anywhere between. But depending on who is drawing those lines, the lower one can be more like 50, and the upper at 500. I agree with you and Charles; it’s subjective.

But the word “industrial” too often has derogatory connotations, e.g., “greedy industrialist.” Media depictions of “industrial agriculture” are universally negative (and almost universally unfair); do we really want to paint our large-scale beekeepers — mostly family operations — with that brush?