With the exception of parts of the Upper Midwest and Northeastern states, beekeepers over much of the country experienced a mild winter resulting in better colony survival rates. In some cases beekeepers still had high winter colony losses due to poor late summer and fall flows in 2016, as well as experiencing heavy varroa mite loads. Beekeepers were scrambling to keep ahead of colonies to prevent unnecessary swarming and loss of early honey crops. Unfortunately, intermittent cold snaps at times froze the early bloom and temporarily halted brood rearing. Commercial pollinators have been busy trying to keep up with pollination contracts as fruit trees and berry crops came into bloom across the country. Demand for package bees, nucs and queens has again been very good over most of the country.
In late March the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service released their annual honey crop and colony estimates. Included this year for the first time were estimates on beekeeper expenditures, incomes and other important data related to beekeeping. According to the report, national honey production was up by 3 percent and colony numbers were up by 4 percent in 2016. In addition, honey prices were down slightly. The top six honey-producing states in 2016 were: North Dakota—38 million pounds; South Dakota—20 million; Montana—12 million; California—11 million; Florida–11 million; and Texas—9 million pounds.
The average price of queen bees was estimated to be $19 for commercial beekeepers, but a whopping $33 for operations with less than five colonies (hobbyists). For operations with five or more colonies, pollination income was $338 million, down 1 percent from 2015. Other beekeeper income for 2016 was $149 million, down 10 percent from 2015. This other income includes sales of queens, queen cells, beeswax, propolis, etc. To read this full report, see the article printed in this issue.
Unlucky beekeepers in this area probably get the prize for having the roughest winter this year. Intermittent snow storms and very cold, windy conditions at times took a very heavy colony toll. Some reporters are estimating a 40% colony loss rate. Other beekeepers have been better off since their bees went into winter with good stores and large populations of healthy bees. In March beekeepers were finally able to start regular apiary visits to feed colonies and assess beeyard losses. Demand for package bees, nucs and queens is expected to be very good again this spring. In addition, continued growth of new hobby beekeepers should add to the demand for bees and queens in this area. Early maple, willow and elm tree pollen was available in addition to scattered wildflowers such as dandelions coming into bloom. Fruit trees were also getting ready to bloom as this was written, so bees should continue to have a steady source of nectar and pollen for brood expansion provided cold weather does not interfere. The first major flows in the area will come from black locust and assorted blooming wildflowers and shrubs. Most beekeeper-held stocks of honey have been sold by now.
A mild winter and early spring brought mixed reviews from beekeepers in this area. Unfortunately, the mild weather at times caused plants and bees to come out of dormancy early only to be knocked back by a cold snap. In addition, some beekeepers, especially in parts of North Carolina, were worried about the lack of soil moisture for later plant growth. In many cases heavy brood rearing caused bees to need extra sugar and pollen supplements. Early nectar and pollen sources included maple, skunk cabbage, henbit, deadnettle, wild mustard, fruit trees and dandelions. Other wildflowers will quickly follow, as well as the important honey flows from tulip-poplar, black locust and sumac.
The need to replace deadouts, expand apiaries and provide bees for newbies will fuel a continued strong demand for package bees, nucs and queens. Most beekeepers have told us that they are sold out of local honey stocks until new crop honey is extracted. Demand for local honey is always excellent in the Mideastern states.
Colonies continue to work numerous wildflowers and fruit trees over the area. Some beekeepers are reporting their first surplus honey for the year and supers are being added. At times colonies had to be fed heavily earlier in the year. Quite a few commercial beekeepers plan to keep their present colony numbers or expand by 5 to 10 percent. Soil moisture conditions continue to improve in a number of areas after being reported to be below average earlier in the year. In Florida, earlier wildflower and orange flows were rated as below average. However, later flows from gallberry and palmetto should be better. Tupelo flows were rated as average or better this season. Clovers, privet and tallow are starting to produce surplus in several area states. Package bee and queen shippers continue to be busy with orders, but a couple cold snaps in March temporarily set back bee work for a short period. Most migratory colonies had been returned to their home yards after almond pollination season in California.
Demand for honey at both the wholesale and retail levels continues to be good, but little new crop was available yet and most of last season’s crop is gone by now.
In the western portion of this area, the deserts came alive this late winter and early spring with abundant wildflower bloom in many cases. Old-timers supered up early in preparation for this rare event, but some newer beekeepers were caught off guard and missed flows or had colonies swarming. Alfalfa and other sources were also blooming in the irrigated fields. Spring came early to much of the area, despite a few late cold snaps. Bees were brooding up quickly and some beekeepers were worried about swarming being a major problem. Many Texas beekeepers were taking advantage of the early season and were making divides or nucs for resale or for their own operations. Bees were working numerous fruit trees, wildflowers and brush locations. Chinese tallow flows should also be starting soon along the Gulf Coast and many migratory colonies will be moved to this flow which always produces a super or two of honey. Other Texas flows included clover, alfalfa, horsemint, catsclaw and mesquite. In parts of Louisiana beekeepers reported flows from privet, tulip-poplar, clover and numerous wildflowers. Most beekeepers were either sold out or running low on honey from last season. Demand remains strong for honey, especially for locally produced varieties.
Beekeepers were busy preparing for package bees, nucs or making divides for the new season. Many ornamental and fruit trees were in bloom, as well as henbit, deadnettle and …