MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Sometimes bad things happen to good bees and good beekeepers. I recently spoke to a veteran beekeeper who has been in the business forty-six years and runs many thousands of colonies. Our conversation was about heavy winter losses. He summarized his assessment as follows: “I don’t have any answers.” To which I replied, “Do you think it is easier to make a living in beekeeping now, or pre-Varroa mite?” Without hesitation, he said that it is easier now. This is one of my favorite questions for beekeepers who have been around long enough to have commercial experience in both eras of beekeeping. I have yet to find one to answer the question any differently. This is an interesting contradiction to explore.
Beekeeping is, by most accounts, more difficult than it’s ever been. If beekeeping was easy, then what we do would have less value. It is this inherent difficulty that creates scarcity and makes every colony more valuable. We as beekeepers must recognize this value and charge for our services accordingly. I continue to be amazed by the resiliency, resourcefulness, and sheer fortitude of my fellow beekeepers. Honey bees are so complex, and there are so many variables out of our control. What new pesticide is going to be released? What is the neighbor a mile away going to spray? What new virus is going to be vectored by Varroa? What prime forage is going to be mowed down for a monoculture or subdivision? How will summers filled with smoke and other extreme weather events affect the bottom line and bee health? What is the effect of cheap, imported, and fake honey on our operations? The list goes on forever and is enough to keep one up at night ruminating.
This industry is in the space of crisis equals opportunity. It is this very crisis that drives the economics behind the value in beekeeping. How long can we exist in this paradigm? Hard to say, but generally speaking beekeepers have responded very well and have actually increased numbers of managed colonies over the last several years, as shown in the chart you can view at: www.acsh.org/news/2018/04/17/bee-apocalypse-was-never-real-heres-why-12851.
It will be very interesting to see how the numbers turn out after this winter, but if history is any indicator beekeepers will respond appropriately. I do take umbrage with the general thrust of the aforementioned article, however; one particular line caught my eye: “High prices are the solution to their own problem . . . .” Even if beekeeping was the most profitable enterprise in the world and beekeepers were infinitely resilient, it still would be very troubling to live in a world where the canary in the coal mine was on constant life support. There are limits to everything.
To be clear, beekeeping is not just about economics, and, as I have mentioned before, there are definitely easier ways to make more money; however, one cannot underestimate the value of loving what you do, even if it includes the cleanup of gross dead outs. By the time this message reaches you, spring will be well upon us and most surviving colonies will be ample and looking to divide with or without your help, so get your hive tool out, get to scraping, order some queens, and make some splits to restock those valuable drawn combs before the moths get to them. The rewards will be many and never forget, Amor fati!
Thank you all for what you do, and keep up the great work. Being a beekeeper in this day and age is no small feat. I truly love that beekeeping is simultaneously a source of pride and humility, and I feel blessed to be part of a cadre of such amazing people. Thank you.