U.S. Honey Crops and Markets

 U.S Honey Crops and Markets - September 2015


A tale of two climates continues over the United States. While much of the country east of the Rocky Mountains has had average or above average rain this season, much of the country west of the Rockies continues to suffer from drought. The effects of the drought in California have been widely publicized, but dry weather has also affected crops in the Intermountain states and parts of the Northwest. Meanwhile, the states east of the Rockies have often had the opposite problem—too much rain this spring and early summer ruined the main honey flows leaving colonies short on stores and surplus honey. In some cases beekeepers reported that colonies made a couple supers of honey early in the season, but before beekeepers could remove it, the wet weather set in. The result was that bees went into a holding pattern since they could not forage and in some cases they had to consume part of their surplus honey in order to survive.

As always, a few areas seemed to have the right conditions to make good honey crops such as some of the Mideastern states. In addition, some parts of the Northeast and East Central areas were still hoping for better late summer honey flows from second-cutting alfalfa, knapweed, knotweed, goldenrod and aster. Major honey flows were mostly over in the Southeast and Southwest.  In Florida, beekeepers were still hoping for good late flows from Brazilian pepper and melaleuca, while Southwestern beekeepers were still hoping for late flows from soybeans, sunflowers, goldenrod, Spanish needles and aster. Upper Midwestern beekeepers still hoped for good late clover, second-cutting alfalfa, sunflower, knapweed and soybean honey flows. Honey crops in the Dakotas are down by about 25% from last year’s good honey crops.

The total U.S. honey crop is expected to be down from last year’s 178 million pounds, perhaps in the 160 to 170 million pound range, mainly due to lower honey production in the Upper Midwest. Honey crops will also be down again in California and Florida. The honey market is expected to remain strong at the retail level and small-lot wholesale level. However, larger beekeepers are expected to begin to feel the pinch of the weakening world honey market after enjoying several years of rising prices.  

NORTHEAST—Spring and summer honey flows were rated as only fair in many cases due to earlier cool weather followed by many days of rainy weather. In fact, some reporters told us that their bees had very few good foraging days, even though black locust, clover, basswood and wildflowers bloomed well. Beekeepers were hoping that the increased ground moisture will translate into good late summer and early fall flows from goldenrod, knotweed, knapweed, aster and Spanish needles. Weather turned hot and sometimes very humid during late July and early August. Beekeepers reported bees hanging on the outsides of hives fanning to cool their hives.

Beekeepers were extracting their spring and early summer honey crops, even though yields were down. Some beekeepers were having problems with high moisture honey due to the excessive wet conditions. Buyers are eager to purchase their favorite brands of local honey now that it is coming onto the market. Honey packers are also hoping to restock their inventories of local honey since many of them had been relying on out-of-state purchases to maintain their sales.

MIDEAST—It’s been a mixed season for beekeepers in this area.  Some reporters indicated excellent honey crops from white Dutch clover, black locust and basswood earlier in the spring. Then, in some cases either hot, dry conditions or too much rainy weather hurt later flows. Other honey flows mentioned included tulip-poplar, sumac, gallberry, vetch, thistle, persimmon, and assorted wildflowers.  Some beekeepers were also lucky enough to be in the right location to produce a fair to good sourwood flow, but others reported that erratic weather hurt flows from this important summer nectar source. By mid-summer some beekeepers were finding small hive beetles multiplying in their weaker colonies. Others were preparing to start varroa mite treatments as well as feeding syrup to colonies that are low on stores.  

Beekeepers who had extracted their new crop honey were finding a ready market and good prices at farmers’ markets, roadside stands and local retail outlets. Much of the honey produced in these states is sold to the local retail trade rather than to honey packers.  

SOUTHEAST—Poor honey crop estimates continue to come from beekeepers over much of the Southeast.  Exceptions appear to be parts of Alabama and Mississippi where we have heard that honey crops were better than last season from sources like mimosa, privet, sumac, crepe myrtle, clover, gallberry and wildflowers. Florida honey crops were a “bust” for many beekeepers and Georgia honey crops were not a lot better. Sources in these two states are predicting 50 to 60% of a normal crop. Some beekeepers have begun treating for varroa. Small hive beetles have also become more active as bee populations have begun to decline.

Orange, gallberry, palmetto and tupelo honey are in short supply.  In fact, we have heard of scarce tupelo honey selling as high as $8.00 per pound wholesale in the barrel and $13 to $16 per pound at the retail level! Tallow honey flows were also rather poor in this area. Some southern Florida beekeepers were still hoping for good late flows from melaleuca and Brazilian pepper, although southern Florida was hit with torrential rains and flooding in early August.  Demand for honey at both the wholesale and retail levels remains good. Some sources felt the wholesale market might decline due to more competition from lower-priced foreign honey.

SOUTHWEST—Honey crops were only fair to poor over much of this area as well. Too much stormy, erratic spring and early summer weather hurt bee foraging and plant bloom. Then, by the time weather had cleared, the most important spring flows were over. Beekeepers have had to rely on remaining irrigated fields of cotton, alfalfa and a few other crops. Wildflowers are mostly dried up by now. Beekeepers made some honey from Chinese tallow earlier this season along the Gulf Coast. Many beekeepers were already treating for mites. In some locations small hive beetle infestations have been particularly bad this season. Where flows were poor, some beekeepers may need to feed their colonies in order to bring them through the winter season.  However, late summer and early fall flows from goldenrod, aster, smartweed and Spanish needles could still help stores if the weather cooperates.  
The honey market, especially for locally produced honey, remains ...