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Pollinating as important as honey for modern beekeeper income


The bees haven't been producing much honey for about a month.  But they'll stay out for another month or so on the pastures and prairie trails around Medina.

           
After the hives get cleaned up, they'll likely spend a few months in a "winter palace" that belongs to Miller Honey Farms in Gackle, N.D. The facility, new last winter, may help improve the health of honey bees by cutting down on moves, controlling the environment and possibly eliminating varroa mites with carbon dioxide. After a few months in the "winter palace," the bees will head west.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota, with 37.83 million pounds of honey, was the top honey producing state in the country in 2016, nearly double what his produced by neighbors South Dakota, with 19.88 million pounds, and Montana, with 12.243 million, which rank second and third in honey production.

Coming in fourth was California, with 11.16 million pounds. Many of the bees that produced honey in the Northern Plains also worked to produce the honey in California, as well as other coastal and southern states.

But these days, honey production is a secondary feature of taking bees to warmer climates. As the landscape of the Northern Plains has changed, beekeepers now rely as much on the income they generate from taking their bees across the country to pollinate crops as on the income they receive from their honey.

Focus on pollination

"One in three bites of food that you eat required a honey bee to pollinate," explained Jason Miller, vice president of Miller Honey Farms.

Miller is a fifth-generation beekeeper. His great-great grandfather started the company in 1894, and they now have about 15,000 hives, making them a large commercial operation.

In the 1970s, Miller's father, John Miller, brought bees to North Dakota. Jason Miller was born in Bismarck and spent his childhood summers in the state. Back then, a beehive would produce more than 200 pounds of honey.

"When I was a kid, the bills were paid off of honey production," Jason Miller said. "That's how you ran a profitable beekeeping operation."

Now, the average is about 40 pounds per hive, Miller said.

The difference comes down to changes in the landscape. As fields that once were in pasture, the Conservation Reserve Program or fallow have transitioned to row crops like corn and soybeans, the forage necessary to produce honey has gone away.

"What bees and pollinators benefit from has largely gone away in North Dakota," Miller said.

As acreage in pastures, CRP and fallow have decreased in North Dakota, honey production per hive also has declined.

At the same time, almond farms in California have grown from small operations that could be pollinated by native species to "massive monocultures" that require some help to reach maturity. Farmers pay beekeepers to bring bees to pollinate their crops.

"The way beekeepers survive is by pollinating crops," Miller explained.

Along with almonds, beekeepers also take bees to citrus groves, apple orchards, and fruit and vegetable farms, among other types of farms, which makes beekeeping important to all aspects of agriculture, he said. agweek.


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