Been watching the price of honey lately? Our monthly honey report has been on a slow but steady no-movement-at-all flatline for about a year now. Partly because we keep asking the same questions of the same people in the same markets. Still, essentially no movement in a year?
When you watch the commodity players, those who buy containers, barrels, truckloads, tankers, it’s another story. Down she goes, faster and faster and faster. The big buyers are paying in the neighborhood of $1.60 – $1.70 a pound. Smaller buyers are paying just over $2.00 a pound. That’s for US produced honey.
In 2015 the US produced 156 million pounds of honey. We imported 371 million pounds. Predictions for US production in 2016 are about 15% lower (survey results out next month, stay tuned) for 130 million pounds. Imports are right on schedule at 370 million pounds. I’m not sure where that missing 25 million pounds disappeared to, but it may come out in the wash. Or, the influx of new beekeepers may be finally catching up and filling tiny cracks in the system. Add over 50,000 new beekeepers over the past three or four years and you’re bound to find some honey.
But for the players, prices are getting tough. The four countries we import the most from are still Canada, India, Vietnam and Argentina. Combined, they account for 84% of reported imports. The other 30+ countries we import from don’t amount to much. US honey is selling, at the commodity level, for right about $1.65 right now. So if you’re a honey user, where do you go if Argentina and Canada are selling their honey for right about a buck a pound, Vietnam’s at $.80 and India’s at $.90. Remember, I said commodity level. It used to be that most of the imported honey went for industrial use, like lubricating oil for road graders. The more refined products, that is US honey, went for table grade, grocery store displays. Pretty, and safe. That’s changing if you look at Country Of Origin labels anymore. Almost, not quite, but almost everything at the brand name level is a blend anymore. Local producers, thank you, still have the pride and quality that stands out. You can see it and you can taste it.
We’ve recently talked about where beekeepers are putting their production energy. When you have an engine that can produce two products, one at a profit, one at a loss, the decision is easy. It’s all bees, all honey, or maybe some of both if you can squeeze honey in between mite treatments and getting the bees to build back up after removing a bunch for – packages, pollination colonies, splits to make up losses, splits to sell, more packages, more splits. All the while keeping mites in check, the colonies queenright, and making up losses from pesticides and other stressors. It’s bees, or honey, but not both. And it shows.
Our tiny industry is, dare I say, playing on a global stage. We have been at this for some time. A quick look at this same picture five years ago is enlightening, but not surprising. In 2012 the U.S. produced just over 147 million pounds of honey – even less than last year. We imported 312 million pounds, nearly 60 million pounds less than last year. That’s 459 million pounds of honey used in the U.S. in 2012, compared to 527 million pounds last year – a 68 million pound increase. That’s like adding a tad over a million pounds a month, every month, for all that time. Talk about added sugar.
Those same four countries that send us so much of the stuff have increased their market share here though. Five years ago they commanded only 66% of our imported market combined, compared to the 84% they have now. Then, Argentina had almost half of that share, today, Vietnam has almost half of that share. And the shares have gotten bigger. In fact, we import from Vietnam almost as much as we produce here. And, from where I sit, I don’t see that picture changing much in the next five years. A crop failure in Asia may temporarily alter the direction honey comes from, and that in itself may cause a spike, a tiny spike in prices, and perhaps an increase in demand for US product, but this market is both adaptable, and fluid so it will right itself quickly, back to Asia, or all the rest will pick up the slack some.
I also see a blip when the new nutrition label comes out, if it doesn’t get fixed in honey’s favor. But it will be a quick blip and then back to nearly normal. Dietary sugar is for the most part bad stuff for everybody, and, like salt and fat, will be tapered off at least some diets. But even a bit less for everybody won’t tell much, because there are more bodies every year – making up that difference.
What started all this, actually, was a conversation I had with a beekeeper on the phone the other day. He was giving me a hard time about my favor for plastic foundation. My argument is, has and always will be time is money, and recycle the plastic. I put in new, wait two years, melt it in the melter and recycle what’s left. Save the frame, toss the rest. Time is money. I don’t have enough of either, but I can save time.
I buy uncoated, brush on a tiny bit from, would you believe a 51 year old store I have, and in it goes. Bees use it. What more can you ask for? But what happens when that block of gold I have is finally gone? Where oh where will the next block come from? And that was the question.
If the trend for producing less honey continues, for whatever reasons, one result will be less beeswax. Of course, it, too could be imported, and at a probably reduced cost compared to the $4 or $5 a pound folks are paying now when you buy it by the ton. But will it be clean? Can it be cleaned? That, friends, is the real question in my book. Honey is a commodity. Bees are a commodity. But what about the wax?
There’s an article inside on using Facebook as an advertising medium. We do it some, probably not enough, but that’s soon going to be changing, and I don’t use it on any regular basis, but a couple of our people here visit and watch and read what’s there a lot. On Bee Culture’s Facebook page we run a photo contest every month, each with a different theme. Last month is was candle displays, before that winter beeyards, and this month Spring flowers with bees. A winner is chosen each month, nominated by the Editor, but it’s not just the Editor who gets to choose. Our whole department gets to. And as much as I’d like to think the best choices are strictly beekeeping focused, it turns out we have more art people than beekeeper people, so it ends up being the best of both most times.
The prizes are nothing to sneeze at either. The Editor’s Choice award is a $100 cash, and a signed copy of The BackYard Beekeeper, by, yes, the Editor.
The Staff Pick Award is a two year digital, AND a two year paper subscription.
We try and pick topics just after they are seasonally highlighted, so take a look at upcoming topics and plan ahead, so you already have them when the time is right.
- May – Packages
- June – Summer beeyards
- July – Bees and water
- August – Harvesting honey in the beeyard
- September – Honey Houses
- October – Beekeepers at the fair
- November – Fall flowers with bees
- December – Your favorite beekeeper portrait
If you don’t do FaceBook, you can still enter, and win. Go to our web page, www.BeeCulture.com and in the upper right hand corner you’ll see the Photo Contest link. Click, fill in the forms, read the rules and you’re ready to go. You can enter as many as five each month (we have to keep some room for the rest of the page you know). Or simply go to Facebook, search for Bee Culture magazine and there we are.
Once you’ve entered your photos, they go through a quick filter here – we did have an extremely attractive lady once share some – ummm – photos with us, so before they get posted for everybody to see, we want to be sure they are of the right topic, and – ummm – the right topic.
Then, at the end of the month we get a chance to take a good look, we make two decisions, and spread the word for the winners. And you get notified, and maybe a check.
So get out your camera – you remember what that is – or your cell phone and start looking for each of those topics. You could do a portrait tomorrow and wait, or packages this month for next!
We’re gearing up for a couple of events this Summer. The first, our Annual Pollinator Day, will be July 15. That’s a Saturday and it’ll run from about 9 in the morning to about 4 in the afternoon. We keep expanding our gardens and will have several more this year. We have already a Natural Pollinator mix from Ernst Seeds out in PA, an all wild flower pollinator mix put together by Ohio Prairie Nursery and sponsored by the Ohio State Beekeepers Association, a phenology garden maintained by our local Master Gardeners, three plots by the Pollinator Partnership people, one a research plot for pollinator counts in Northeast Ohio, one an all legume plot and another a wildflower mix, both for planting alongside agriculture fields to give pollinators a safe haven from pesticides. We think they will have more this Summer, but it’s in the planning stage.
New frost plantings this winter are two off-the-shelf mixes, one from Tractor Supply that has fertilizer and mulch mixed in for homeowners, and another from Town and Country Co-op, here in Ohio. We have plans to put one in sponsored by a new group that’s affiliated with Pheasants Forever, called The Bee and Butterfly Habitat Fund, and we are looking for some more off-the-shelf mixes to test. We want to have an idea of what works, or works best anyway for this part of Ohio so when folks visit we have some good information and something they can actually look at.
During our Pollinator Day we have representatives from most of these organizations set up a table and are available for questions, hand outs, catalogs and the like for your benefit. Plus, we’ll have Medina County Extension people, Master Gardeners, OSU Pollinator Extension, Medina County Soil and Water people (they are doing a bang up job of getting pollinator gardens going in our part of the state). This will be the third time we’ve tried this and it gets bigger every year.
There’ll be a bee tent with demos ongoing if you want to see how Medina Beekeepers do their stuff, lots of good food, cold drinks and snacks. Lots of shade if it’s hot, and attendance is free. Come early, park, walk the gardens, talk to the experts, see the flowers, enjoy the day. And while you’re here, take a look at the streetside pollinator plantings we’ve put in on both sides of the street The Root Candle Company sits on. We’re expanding these plantings this year too, so you can stroll along the sidewalk, look at the parking lot planting and just behind that parking lot is more than a couple acres of paths, gardens, demos, tents and people who what to help your bees.
OK, if that isn’t your cup of tea, think about this. The Voices Of Bee Culture will be here in Medina on September 22, 23, and 24. Almost all of our regular writers will be here for at least a couple of those days to meet and greet and share in person some of the wisdom you get to read only once a month. We’ll be missing a few – talk about herding cats – but with a lot of luck all will be here in person or electronically, sharing the same wisdom and thoughts they would if actually here. Come and meet Clarence Collison, Ann Harman and Jim Tew who have been writing for us longer than I’ve been here, Phil Craft (ask a Q in person!), Toni Burnham, Larry Connor, Jay Evans, Jessica Louque, Kim Lehman, Ross Conrad and Ed Colby (and maybe his gal Marilyn!). A couple of folks can’t make that date, but we hope to have Connie Bright and Jennifer here on the big screen, live if we can, so you’ll at least get a flavor of their presence. And of course life will change between now and then, so some may not be able to make it in person, and some who don’t think they can will. We’ll keep you up to date here.
Friday night will be meet and greet in the Bee Culture Conference Room (where everything is held by the way), followed by a Saturday of talks and conversations (this isn’t going to be terribly formal, but we’ll have some talks and discussions on topics of the day, or what’s on your mind), a TERRIFIC Lunch followed by a few more folks, then essentially the same on Sunday with the rest of our regulars.
The whole Bee Culture crew will be on hand to help hold all this together, and maybe a few surprises along the way will happen. We’ll see about that.
So, The Voices Of Bee Culture, September 22 – 24, 2017. Mark that one on your calendar for sure, and watch these pages next month for the rest of the particulars.