Letters to the Editor

 Letters to the Editor - December 2014


When to Feed Pollen Substitute

I must thank you for printing the interesting and instructive articles that Randy writes for the ABJ. When I think of all I have learned over the years, often facts casually mentioned. This article taught me that I should take closer note of the kind of jelly around the tiniest brood. I had wondered why sometimes the jelly was white, and sometimes not, and now I know. I will take much closer note of it in the future.

I’m always pleased that the timely research Randy does addresses questions beekeepers are really interested in. Keep those articles coming!!
Jeanne Hansen

Beekeeping Finance

Very little attention to beekeeping financials exist today in the beekeeping literature. The Financial Analysis Honey Production, Pollination and Queen Rearing Spreadsheets (David E. MacFawn, dmacfawn@aol.com ) have been used to analyze various bee operation scenarios to determine investment strategies. The spreadsheets give an insight into pricing strategy, overall operation profit, total investment outlay, individual product line cost and profit, and blended honey pricing and costs. The spreadsheet is pretax with the accounting tax information not included since everyone’s tax situation is different; it is a business planning tool. The Net Present Value (NPV) method is used to determine if your bee operation strategy will work and make you money. NPV is the standard that most United States corporations use in investment decisions.

Several generalities are illuminated with the spreadsheet. Local honey can command a higher price than generic honey. Honey of various types, such as sourwood, tupelo, or orange blossom, also can command a higher price than typical wild flower honey. Overall strategy to market your honey is to push the upper price limit with your honey prices to determine what exactly your upper price point is, then back off a bit to retain your sales. Set your honey prices based on the market rate, not cost, then determine what your profit margin is based on your cost. Customers are also more willing to purchase a product at a lower price than a higher price; such as a $2.00 two ounce container rather than an $11.00 pint or $17.00 quart container. You can also make higher profit margins from smaller quantities than larger quantities.

When starting out, locate your hives as close to your house as possible to minimize travel time and cost. Generally around 11-15 hives is the break-even point to start having out-yards profitably. Locate your out-yards approximately five miles from each other to minimize travel expense with five miles being the general maximum distance that foragers will travel. There is a trade-off between how many colonies an out-yard will support and the travel cost. You want to have as many colonies in an out-yard as possible due to travel cost but not so many that the area cannot support the number of colonies. Usually 15-20 colonies is the maximum that I want in an out-yard since this is the maximum one person can typically work comfortably at one time.

h up to 10-15 colonies you can make money off of one 40 pound per hive nectar flow if you minimize travel and extracting equipment. Up to the 10-15 colony range it is usually cheaper to pay someone else to extract your honey rather than investing $800 or so in extracting equipment. This 10-15 colony number is lower if you produce more than approximately one medium super per flow. Maybe your bee club has an extractor and equipment that you can use. Total extracting equipment investment decision is dependent on your labor rate and equipment cost. Invest in your bees and woodenware first prior to investing in a lot of extracting equipment or a big building.

Generally, a honey operation needs to produce approximately around 100-120 pounds of honey per hive a year or more to make money commercially, if solely producing honey. This may be multiple nectar flows. This will reduce the equipment investment cost per pound of honey. However, it is dependent on the travel cost and the selling product mix. It is tough to make a profit only selling barrels of honey retail ($1600 - $1700 per barrel). You need pollination revenue, queen and / or NUC revenue, and / or selling lower honey quantities than barrels. However, as always, it is dependent on one’s particular operation and product mix.

The small honey producer should sell retail whenever possible. You will typically lose money or break even at best, selling at wholesale prices. The product prices should be market based and this spreadsheet will tell you if you are making a profit and what it is based on your selling price. Colony survival rate impacts your overall honey production profitability greatly. Also, the honey yield per colony per nectar flow also impacts the operation’s profitability.

Generally, there is a trade-off between producing honey and renting out your colonies for pollination. It depends on the per colony honey yield, the per colony pollination rental rate, and distance traveled. If you are lucky and pollinating certain crops, you may be able to produce a super of honey. A beekeeper may consider doing both honey production and pollination. This is especially so as to not be dependent on one source of income. Also, it is cheaper per hive to transport a “full load,” of hives than a partial load. This may be eight to ten colonies or more in a pickup (depends on if you want to stack them).

The Spreadsheet also highlights that if you are able to make a large investment up front, you can spread you equipment costs over a longer production time frame and increase your Net Present Value (NPV). This is especially true if you invest in extracting equipment or a honey house.

You also have the option to pay yourself a salary or a lump sum at the end of year. If you pay help during the year, then you probably would want to include that salary. Paying yourself a salary will give you a more realistic pricing structure, profit margin and costs than a lump sum at the end of the year.

Yes, you can make money with bees, but you need to make your investment decisions judiciously. A small operator needs to invest in bees and woodenware first without investing a lot in extracting equipment or building. Minimize your travel costs and set up your operation optimally from the beginning. Utilize that garage or existing building that you may have.

Enjoy your endeavor and make money also.

David E. MacFawn
205 Ridgecreek Drive
Lexington, SC 29072

Beekeeping in the Mediterranean from  Antiquity to the Present October 9 – 11, Syros Island, Greece

The Eva Crane Trust in conjunction with the Chamber of the Cyclades and the Hellenic Agricultural Organization (DEMETER) organized this first beekeeping symposium in Hermoupolis, which is on the capital of the 24 islands that make up the Cyclades. The two-day symposium actually took place in the Council chamber which held upwards of 100 delegates. However, by the magic of cctv, a further 45 people took part through live links to seven other islands in the group.

The eastern Mediterranean is rich in the history of beekeeping and the first day was given over to looking at this rich heritage. After the opening addresses by governmental and local dignitaries, the day was devoted to an overview of this history. Richard Jones set the stage by recounting Eva Crane’s own work in the area which formed important parts of her seminal texts: Archaeology of Beekeeping (Duckworth, 1983) and The World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting (Duckworth, 1999). This was followed by Professor Mazer of Israel who described the great archaeological find of an apiary of 100+ hives dated to 3500 BCE at Tel Rehov. The oldest example of commercial beekeeping yet discovered.

Ancient Egyptian beekeeping was covered by Alaskan beekeeper and world traveller, Stephen Petersen. Professor Gene Kritsky from the USA continued his quest for the perfect hive by looking at ...