[NAFEX] Tangentially on topic: 2009 Has the Worst Honey Crop on Record

athagan at atlantic.net athagan at atlantic.net
Fri Oct 30 13:10:34 EDT 2009

I know some of you folks keep bees, or use or sell a lot of honey or  
know folks that do.



2009 Has the Worst Honey Crop on Record
If you like honey, you should buy it now ... and buy a lot.
October 28, 2009 at 9:59PM by Kim Flottum | comment

Each October Bee Culture magazine surveys our 100 or so regular honey  
producer/reporters from all parts of the U.S. By October 10 or so much  
of the U.S. crop has been harvested, and beekeepers have a pretty good  
feel for what they will be making, even if some is still in the field.  
These reporters also subjectively (but with years of experience behind  
them) rank their crop with values ranging from 1 – very good, to 5 –  
very bad. (What is very good for a beekeeper in Ohio may be nearly a  
crop failure for a beekeeper in Florida – it depends on how each runs  
their business.)

They also tell us how good their spring crop was and if they harvested  
any then, and the same for their summer and the fall crops. And they  
give us the average production of each of their colonies over the  
whole season ... not just those that produced honey, but all of them,  
which is different than the only other survey of this sort that tackle  
the subject.

Then, beginning with the latest USDA U.S. colony count (which came out  
in February this year) we adjust that number up or down based on  
information from our reporters, and then multiply the average colony  
production our reporters give us, and come up with an estimate of how  
much honey was produced this season. We’ve been doing this for several  
years now, and we’re pretty good ... maybe even better than the USDA’s  
figures because, although we have a smaller sample of beekeepers, we  
have a more finely tuned sample that reflects each honey producing  
region. The 10 largest honey producing states have more reporters, and  
more influence in the final figures than, say Rhode Island, which has  
hardly any honey production.

So what we have is a pretty good picture of U. S. honey production  
this past season ... which is a good part of the overall picture of  
what honey costs, but certainly not all of it. Imports from honey  
producing countries around the world certainly have an impact on the  
honey market in the U. S. but imports are a function of production in  
those countries, too, as is demand in the U. S. market. So we need to  
start at home.

And the key player this year ... the weather! No surprise there if you  
ventured outside more than once this summer, no matter where you live  
... it was one weird weather event, all summer long. Most of the east  
and mid-west was cool and wet, the south was hot and dry or way too  
wet and much of the northwest and west was dry and hot, too. Florida  
and the gulf states, particularly Texas and Louisiana did fairly well  
this summer, as did the mountain states and California.

The consistent top 10 honey producing states are the 2 Dakotas,  
California, Florida, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas  
and bringing up tenth, depending on the year ... Idaho, Georgia or New  
York. These 10 states produce right about 75% of all the honey in the  
U.S. each year ... meaning the rest of us pretty much produce squat  
every year.

But how much honey? Twenty four years ago, before Varroa mites came to  
live here and before honey production was a major industry in several  
countries as an export market, the U.S. was producing something like  
220 milion pounds a year, with hardly any honey imports at all. Of  
course back then, even a minor producing state like Ohio had 9,000  
beekeepers. Last year, the U. S. produced only 160 million pounds, and  
Ohio had about 3,200 beekeepers. You can see the problem.

Last year the U.S. produced, by our estimate, about 61 pounds of honey  
for each of the 2.564 million colonies we figured were honey producers  
for a total of 156.4 million pounds of honey. USDA measured 161.1  
million pounds. We’ve been that close since we started. I like our  
numbers better, but why quibble over a 3% difference.

So, this year our predictions are that 2.223 million colonies (down  
from last year because of colony losses to colony collapse disorder  
and last year’s poor honey crop) will produce 53.7 pounds of honey  
each, for a total of 119.37 million pounds of U. S. produced honey ...  
this is, friends, the worst honey crop ever. EVER!

But, interestingly, demand hasn’t dropped an ounce since those  
pre-Varroa days. Per capita, we consume right about 1.25 pounds of  
honey every year, and every year there are more people in this  
country. When you actually ask folks however, it turns out that right  
about 50% of the population actually goes out and buys honey. About  
35% never buy, or eat honey, while the rest only consume it in foods  
that have it as an ingredient, like teas, breads, salad dressings and  
BBQ sauces. Which means, then, that the rest of us actually are  
consuming far more that that 1.25 pounds each ... probably closer to  
2–2.5 pounds each. In my house, the two of us consume over 10 pounds a  
year ... nearly a pound a month ... but I suspect we are somewhat  
above average.

So, since the U.S. consumes almost 375 million pounds of honey a year  
(300 million people x 1.25 pounds/year), and produces, this year, only  
120,000,000 pounds, where will the rest come from? Well, this year  
that’s a good question. Generally, we can count on Canada, Argentina,  
China, Brazil and a few other countries to make up the bulk of this  
shortfall. But mostly, those countries, too, have had less than  
stellar production seasons. Argentina has turned into the soybean  
capital of the world, and Canada had weather similar to ours, so their  
production isn’t as great this year as it could be.
honey barrels

China sells almost everything they produce to Europe now, because  
Europe can’t get what they were getting from Argentina. Plus, for  
several years China has been playing fast and loose with tariffs  
imposed by our country to offset the imbalance in their prices. They  
were, for a time, charging something in the neighborhood of  
$0.25/pound for their honey ... while U.S. beekeepers need something  
like $1.50/pound just to break even.

And then there are the circumvention issues ... to avoid paying the  
tariffs Chinese exporters were sending honey to the U.S. through  
secondary countries at almost those same ridiculous prices. Some were  
caught red-handed and punished, and that seems to have slowed the rush  
of that honey into the U.S. from anywhere. Too, there have been  
concerns with Chinese honey containing what are here considered  
illegal chemical residues ... bacterial control agents applied to  
their bees to keep them healthy. They are illegal in Europe, too, and  
right now Europe is buying a lot -- well, almost all of China’s honey.  
That Chinese beekeepers have changed their practices seems odd, but  

So, honey in the U.S. is scarce. And scarce seems to cause prices to  
rise ... the old supply and demand thing. But then there’s the  
exchange rate -- the U.S. dollar is weak. U. S. honey packers might  
actually have a better market overseas than at home, so that just  
might limit further any available product ... demand stays the same,  
supply becomes even shorter. Prices ... ?

So ... in the short run, the price of honey this winter is probably  
going to go up some. Maybe a lot. And you may not be able to find  
local honey later this winter.

My advice ... buy lots now. It might not be there later, and it will  
cost more later. And now you know why.

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