WATER WORKS – Mike Martin pulled out a frame of honey from a hive filled with thousands of bees in the backyard of the home he shares with his wife, Janet.
The docile European insects walked on the frame, some buzzing around his head. Martin was stung only once, and he hardly seemed fazed by it while the busy bees kept making honey.
The thousands of little winged workers the couple keep at five locations in the county make honey the couple sells to meet the growing customer demand in Lebanon County.
Like most beekeepers in the honey business, the Martins, who live on Thompson Avenue in North Annville Township, have no problem selling their product to the eager customers who purchase raw local honey for its supposed health properties and their desire to buy locally produced food.
But making a profit as a beekeeper – especially those who are not considered commercial beekeepers – is another story.
“My dream is to have a little shop, like a honey hut,” Janet Martin said. “People do love our honey.”
Success for those in the honey business is also contingent upon Mother Nature and other serious factors.
Bees across the country were dying by the thousands just five years ago. some beekeepers lost more than half their hives due to Colony Collapse Disorder, which causes seemingly healthy honeybee colonies to go into sudden, steep decline. meanwhile, pesticides and varroa mites have had adverse effects on colonies. and with the extremely wet spring and the recent rash of 100-plus-degree days, pollination was that much harder for bees.
“This year is light on honey flow,” Mike Martin said. “The drought has affected business.”
still, the demand for local honey is up in Lebanon County and throughout the United States. Honey prices have also reached record highs.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania honey production last year totaled 1.11 million pounds, up 32 percent over 2009, and colonies rose to 30,000, up 43 percent over last year. The total value of honey produced in the state last year was an estimated $2,276,000, an increase over the estimated $1,672,000 in 2009.
Nationally, honey production last year totaled 176 million pounds, up 20 percent since 2009, the USDA reported.
Retail prices for honey have been climbing, too. in July, the average retail price per pound steadily climbed to $5.23, up from $3.80 in 2005 for the same month in 2005, according to the National Honey Board.
“There is a great demand for local, natural honey,” said beekeeper Dave Anderson. “I really don’t have any trouble getting rid of it. I’m still making a profit.”
Anderson has 35 hives on his Upper Lawn farm and says he’s had a good year so far. he belongs to the Capital Area Beekeepers Association and said so many people signed up for a beekeeping course that they had to be turned away.
There are between 139,600 and 212,000 beekeepers in the United States, according to the USDA. The vast majority, about 95 percent, are hobbyists with fewer than 25 hives, and about 4 percent are part-timers, like Anderson, who keep from 25 to 299 hives. Hobbyists and part-timers account for about 50 percent of bee colonies and about 40 percent of honey produced.
For his first couple of years, Anderson didn’t make a profit. Five years in, he broke even, and now he has about a 50 percent profit margin.
“It doesn’t account for my time,” he said. “If you want to make a living at it, you have to do it full-time. It’s a 60-hour-a-week job.”
But, he added, most people aren’t necessarily in it for the money at the lower level.
“It’s a hobby, which is easily within the abilities of most people,” he said.
Full-timers, like many commercial beekeepers, do more work with pollination than producing honey, said Jim Pinkerton, president of the Lancaster County Honey Producers. Beekeepers with 300 or more bee colonies are considered commercial.
There are 1,600 commercial beekeeping operations in the United States, and they produce about 60 percent of the nation’s honey, according to the USDA. Pollination beekeepers move honeybee hives to farms to provide enough pollinating insects to produce strong yields of crops.
“The big guys who move them around, they are the people making a living with bees,” Pinkerton said, adding that he thinks the market for local honey would go up if what constitutes “honey” is better defined.
The United States consumed roughly 410 million pounds of honey in 2010, 61 percent of which was imported. There has been a tighter world honey supply as a federal crackdown on imported honey from China continues, according to national reports. Large shipments of diluted or contaminated honey from China has been brought into the States in recent years after being “laundered” in other countries to cover up its origin and dodge tariffs and health inspections.
The honey industry has been trying to raise awareness about imported honey by calling for a program to verify the origin of honey sold to consumers.
a lot of honey is used in cereals and snacks, but the rest is sold at the retail level. Tina Forry, co-owner of Risser-Marvel Farm Market in South Londonderry Township, sells a variety of honey, including Martin Honey, and has several of the Martins’ hives on the market property.
“The local honey is the most popular,” she said.
Customers tend to buy local honey for health reasons, which include allergy relief, she said. Zip code honey is flavored with local flowers, which is supposedly good for seasonal allergy relief.
“A lot of people swear by it,” Forry said.
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<a href="http://www.ldnews.com/ci_18673217?source=most_viewedtag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.ldnews.com/ci_18673217?source=most_viewedSun, 14 Aug 2011 00:12:47 GMT 00:00″>Success sweet in bee biz
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