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Some Beekeepers Are Gathering Sweeter Profits

Restrictions on imports and a drought are lifting prices being offered for honey.

November 29, 2002|Kim Baca | Associated Press

FRESNO — Some of the nation's beekeepers are buzzing about profits after having been offered higher prices for honey this year, ending a multiyear slump.

Beekeepers are being paid about $1 to $1.20 a pound, about twice as much as in recent years. The increase is due to restrictions on cheaper imports and a shortage of honey amid a nationwide drought.

"The price on the store shelf is still very affordable, it's still within a buck or two, but we are getting our share finally," said Richard Adee of the American Honey Producers Assn.

California is one of the top honey states in the nation, producing 30,800 pounds in 2000. Florida, North Dakota and South Dakota also rank high.

Tariffs were placed on Argentine and Chinese exports last year, helping U.S. producers in their battle against cheap foreign honey.

In August, the United States put an immediate stop on all honey shipments from China, one of the leading exporters, after the antibiotic chloramphenicol was found in the honey.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits chloramphenicol in food because of concerns about the potential for serious blood disorders in humans. Chloramphenicol is used to control disease in shrimp, crawfish and bees.

However, not all beekeepers are reaping profits. Some have been stung by the nationwide drought, causing less wild foliage for bees to pollinate. Bees gather pollen as they go from plant to plant seeking nectar, which is carried back to the hive to turn into honey.

The Honey Producers Assn. estimates a 27% decrease in production this year, with a total of about 160 million pounds, down from 186 million pounds in 2001. Honey production two years ago was 220 million pounds.

To make ends meet, some beekeepers move to California in the winter to prepare bees for the second part of their business, pollination. Beekeepers start feeding bees in December in anticipation of the pollination process that starts in February.

Lyle Johnston, a Colorado resident, has been coming to the San Joaquin Valley for 20 years with his bee colonies to rent hives for $52 each to farmers for pollination. But he warned that there may be a shortage of colonies to rent this year.

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