U.S. Honey Crops and Markets
U.S Honey Crops and Markets - March 2014
Vastly different pictures emerged in late January/early February as beekeepers on the West Coast geared up for another busy almond pollination season, while beekeepers over much of the rest of the country shivered with wave after wave of unusually cold weather. However, beekeepers on the West Coast do have their share of problems. In some cases, their colonies were too weak or they are finding deadouts instead of thriving colonies. In addition, they face their third consecutive year of drought. Meanwhile, beekeepers in the Midwest and over much of the rest of the Eastern U.S. contended with unrelenting cold, windy weather in January that was taking its toll on overwintering colonies. Where possible, beekeepers farther south were feeding their colonies during warmer periods in an effort to bring them through the winter alive into early spring. Early indications are that package bee, nuc and queen demand will be quite strong this spring. Some breeders booked up earlier than normal and had stopped taking orders for bees by the end of January. Queen breeders were also booking up early select delivery dates. In fact, harsh weather in the South could take its toll on early queen breeding efforts, delaying some early delivery dates, especially if February weather did not improve.
The honey market remains strong at both the wholesale and retail levels. However, most bulk quantities of domestic honey have been sold by now.
NORTHEAST—Continuing cold weather and snowy conditions have prevailed through the first half of winter. January weather was extremely cold and bees only had brief warm-up periods where they could break cluster and move to new stores. Winter losses are expected to be higher than usual due to a combination of the harsh winter and poor winter stores. Some reporters were making sugar candy boards to feed their bees or were using winter patties to carry bee clusters through until warmer weather returned. Beekeepers are already finding some deadouts characterized by either mass starvation or deserted hives. They are planning to begin more frequent colony inspections and feedings in February and March before the first maple pollen was available. This may make the difference between normal and devastating colony losses. Many beekeepers had already ordered their packages, nucs or queens for the new season, anticipating that bees will be in short supply due to the long, cold winter extending into the southern tier of states.
Fewer honey sales were reported due to local beekeepers running out of product. Many store shelves are currently stocked with out-of-state or foreign blended honey.
MIDEAST—Beekeepers were beginning to inspect colonies on warmer days and feeding where they needed to do so. Some are using candy boards, sugar patties, dry sugar or syrup on warmer days. However, many reporters continue to find cases of colony collapse, in addition to classic starvation. These losses will necessitate more demand for package bees, nucs and queens. Beekeepers were hoping for an early spring that would allow maples, elms and oak, as well as early wildflowers to begin blooming. Skunk cabbage and maples are some of the first early bloomers in this part of the country. Much will depend on the weather conditions during February and early March since this is often when colonies run out of stores, right when their salvation is at hand in the form of tree pollen and early wildflowers. Many beekeeping short courses were planned for February and March. Honey demand remains excellent, but most beekeepers have exhausted their remaining inventories.
SOUTHEAST—Late January freezing temperatures set back early pollen and nectar flows, as well as early brood rearing in some locations. Colonies have been wintering normally, but late freezes can be very damaging to brood rearing. In addition, late freezes can hurt early build-up honey flows that beekeepers rely on. Bees are generally in good condition and moisture conditions are satisfactory for the present. The big orange flow in Florida should be starting in early March and beekeepers are hoping that poor weather will not curtail this very important flow. However, they are also worried about citrus greening problems in the groves and the associated massive spraying efforts that growers mount in order to combat the problem. Last season many colonies were lost in the orange groves due to massive spraying in some locations. On the other hand, a number of Florida commercial beekeepers have committed to almond pollination in California, so will not be returning until after the orange flow has occurred.
Package bee and queen producers have been hard at work in preparation for another very busy season. Quite a few reported that they booked up quickly on package bees and nucs, but were still taking queen orders, although early delivery dates had already been taken. Bulk honey sales are down due to the lack of any unsold supplies. However, some reporters continue to comment that there is some packer resistance to buying the darker grades of honey such as Brazilian pepper and melaleuca. Retail sales continue to be reported as good.
SOUTHWEST—Beekeepers in this area are also playing a roulette game with the late winter weather, hoping for no late freezes that would disrupt brood rearing and early brush flows. Both local and migratory beekeepers in these southern states depend on good late winter and early spring build-up for colony splitting or pollination rentals. Winter storms and cold weather dipped down to the Gulf of Mexico in late January, which was a big concern to beekeepers who had their bees on locations for build-up. Some of these bees were to be used for California almond pollination or for early pollination duties elsewhere. Moisture conditions are adequate in the eastern half of this area, but farther west, more moisture is badly needed to insure good spring flows. Package bee and queen producers in this area have also indicated a very strong demand this season. Some breeders were already booked up for the season for package bees or nucs.
Very little old-crop honey remains unsold, but demand remains good at both the wholesale and retail levels.
EAST CENTRAL—January cold weather was very hard on colonies. Although there were actually a few days warm enough for cleansing flights, on most days colonies were confined to their hives. Temperatures were so cold that clusters sometimes could not move to new honey stores, so they died of starvation. These dying colonies are in addition to colonies that died earlier in the winter when bees simply disappeared from their hives due to dwindling caused by viruses.With large winter colony die-offs in some states, most of our reporters felt there would be a very strong demand for replacement packages, nucs and queens this spring. In fact, some southern breeders stopped advertising early in the season because they were already booked up.
In some cases beekeepers reported large amounts of snow accompanying the cold weather, but that was not always the case. In fact, some East Central locations are still on the dry side and will need good, soaking spring rains to help spring wildflowers.
Beekeepers were trying to feed colonies with varying degrees of success due to the extreme cold temperatures. Very few bulk quantities of honey remain unsold at present, so there was little market activity to report. Retail honey sales remain strong.
WEST CENTRAL—The majority of commercial colonies were moved to California for almond pollination or South for overwintering and subsequent early