U.S. Honey Crops and Markets
U.S Honey Crops and Markets - May 2013
Early spring concerns continued to revolve around the much larger colony losses this past winter, in addition to weaker colonies. As we indicated last month, migratory commercial beekeepers were some of the first to notice this last fall as they checked and loaded colonies for their big move to California for almond pollination. Then, this early spring northern beekeepers also began finding larger than normal winter losses in their colonies. An often mentioned loss percentage has been 30 to 40 percent. However, some beekeepers suffered losses as high as 75% of their colonies. Package bee, nuc and queen producers booked up quickly and there exists the very real possibility that many beekeepers will not be able to repopulate their deadouts until late spring or early summer due to heavy demand for early spring packages, nucs and queens.
In addition to the massive pollination industry on the West Coast, growers throughout the rest of the nation need colonies to pollinate fruits and berries. Demand and prices are up for pollination of many different crops.
Early honey flow reports in the southern half of the country have been mixed. Erratic weather is blamed for poor Florida orange flows. However, reports of moisture and plant conditions, as well as bee build up, were more optimistic over much of the rest of the Southeast and Southwest regions. Meanwhile, the northern half of the country has struggled with a late spring and efforts to rebuild depleted apiaries. On a positive note, however, ground moisture conditions have recovered to near normal in a number of states that were suffering from drought in 2012. Unfortunately, lack of moisture remains a major concern in the Upper Midwest, as well as parts of Oklahoma and Colorado.
The strong market for honey at both the wholesale and retail levels is expected to continue over the entire country due to the shortage of locally produced honey combined with the increasing consumer demand. Prices at both the wholesale and retail levels are reaching new highs.
NORTHEAST—Colony losses were estimated to be higher than normal—perhaps 35 to 50% due to weaker hives in the fall and the longer winter. Unlike last season, when colonies had access to early pollen and nectar in February or early March, this season cold, rainy weather kept bees in their hives much longer. Many beekeepers fed when they could, but often it was too late to save clusters. Early maple, alder, willow and wildflowers were blooming as this was written in early April, but warmer, sunny weather was needed. Ground moisture conditions are mostly rated as average to above normal. Demand for replacement packages, nucs and queens is very good, but some shortages are predicted. Very little of last season’s honey remains unsold.
MIDEAST—Spring was slow in coming to the Mideastern states as well. Beekeepers had to feed later into the early spring at a time when colonies would normally be working many early trees and wildflowers. Colony losses in these states were ranging from a low of 15% to a high of 50% in some locations. Maples, alders, willows and henbit were in bloom as this was written, and fruit tree bloom was coming on quickly. Demand for replacement packages, nucs and queens is quite heavy. With good ground moisture and fair weather, beekeepers are looking forward to better wildflower, black locust and tulip poplar flows this spring.
SOUTHEAST—The Florida orange flow was below normal due to erratic weather during the main part of the bloom. In addition, a major bee kill resulting in the loss of hundreds of colonies occurred when one grower sprayed his groves during the height of the orange blossom. Later prospects from gallberry and palmetto are good if the weather cooperates. Northeastern Florida flow prospects looked the brightest when this report was written in early April. Bees continue to build up, but some nuc and package orders are expected to be delayed. An estimated 125,000 Florida hives were trickling back into the state after almond pollination in California. Many of these migratory beekeepers missed the orange flow, but hope to catch later important honey flows in the state.
Elsewhere in the area, colonies continued to build up nicely on plentiful early nectar and pollen sources such as dandelion, wildflowers, tupelo, redbud and assorted fruit bloom. Ground moisture remains good and the weather continues to be mild. Due to the early spring, a number of package bee and queen companies were able to get a jump on the season. This has been most helpful in view of the extremely heavy demand for bees and queens due to the higher than normal northern colony winter kill. Many new hobbyist beekeepers are showing up at beekeeping short courses this spring and they will want to order bees as well.
Demand for honey at both the wholesale and retail levels remains excellent. New crop honey is expected to sell near or above $2.00 per pound in the barrel. Specialty honeys such as orange, tupelo and sourwood should go even higher. However, much of this year’s crop will be sold at area farmers’ markets and roadside stands since demand for locally produced honey is so strong.
SOUTHWEST—Colonies were building up well with the bloom of numerous wildflowers and fruit trees in the area. Honey bees being overwintered in the Southwest will be split sometime in April before they are moved back to their northern locations for clover and alfalfa flows. Other colonies will be moved to honey flows elsewhere in the Southwest such as the brush, horsemint or tallow flows. Texas fruit trees and brush plants are coming into full bloom and should provide nice flows for build-up or honey storage. Later clover and alfalfa flows will also be starting shortly, as well as the tallow flows along the Gulf Coast. In Arizona and New Mexico, desert wildflowers, citrus and alfalfa are providing honeyflows. In Arkansas and Louisiana, dandelions, fruit trees and wildflowers are coming into full bloom. Later blackberry and then clover flows should start soon afterward. Some good late snows and rains helped the drought situation in Oklahoma, but many locations are still indicating below normal ground moisture. Maple, fruit bloom, dandelions and wildflowers have come into bloom in various parts of Oklahoma and then clover and alfalfa flows will soon follow.
Demand for bees is excellent in this area, although winter colony losses were lower than for beekeepers farther north. Many new hobbyists are starting this year and will need packages or nucs. A growing number of beekeepers in this area are selling more nucs and packages to other beekeepers since demand continues to grow.
Honey remains in short supply in the Southwest, especially for locally produced varietal or regional honeys. Prices at both the wholesale and retail levels have continued to increase. Although honey supplies have dwindled, demand has continued to increase.
EAST CENTRAL—Colony losses are much higher than last spring when the warmer temperatures came in February and early March. Reports from beekeepers are varying widely, but many reports of losses in the 30 to 60% range have been received. Beekeepers were late in assessing losses due to the cold February and March. Cold temperatures were also often accompanied by heavy snowfall or sleet. As this was written in early April, beekeepers were cleaning up deadouts and feeding surviving colonies in preparation for the new season. Many beekeepers were planning to make splits, but others planned to buy packages or nucs to make up their colony losses. The problem many are encountering, however, is that a large number of southern and California package bee and nuc producers are booked through the spring months. This could mean that fewer deadouts will be recouped or if they are repopulated, they may not build up in time to make any honey this season.
Maple pollen came to the southern part of this area in March, but many beekeepers farther north said they did not see any pollen coming into hives until early April. This is a full one to two months later than last year’s early spring. Fruit trees, dandelions and wildflowers were expected to follow soon, so bees should have many more nectar sources by mid-April.
One optimistic note about this season—the increased snow cover and rain has helped replenish ground moisture, which should be especially helpful to plant growth in dry parts of this area.
The demand for honey at both the wholesale and retail levels remains strong, but locally produced honey is in very short supply. Prices at the wholesale level for quality white honey are in the $2.00 to $2.50 per pound range.