Drought stifles honey production in California

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

California has seen a precipitous drop in honey production since 2010, as three years of drought has caused a shortage of sage, buckwheat, alfalfa and other flowers for bees.

Capital Press

REDDING, Calif. — With a big yellow sign that says “local honey,” beekeeper Darryl Mincer is a regular fixture at the Saturday morning farmers’ market here.

But like other California honey producers, Mincer is finding it harder lately to maintain his supplies.

“It’s just way dry,” he said. “It takes moisture to make flowers. No moisture, no flowers. We could use some more rain right now.”

Amid a third straight year of dry conditions, the bees that make honey are finding a dearth of sage, buckwheat, toyon, alfalfa and even yellow starthistle to pollinate.

For Los Banos, Calif., beekeeper Gene Brandi, the California black button sage is a great honey crop. But he hasn’t had a good sage honey crop since 2010, he said.

“In a good, wet year or even in a normal rainfall year, we can be the No. 1 honey producing state in the nation,” said Brandi, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. “We’ve not been No. 1 in the last couple of years and we won’t be this year, either.”

Honey production nationwide was up last year, but California’s nearly 10.9 million pounds of honey produced last year was down from the 11.5 million pounds produced in the state in 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“This being the third dry year, I would anticipate another year of down honey production in California,” Brandi said.

While it’s always fluctuated wildly, production in California has dropped precipitously since 2010, when 410,000 colonies churned out nearly 27.5 million pounds of honey, according to NASS. Last year’s total was the lowest on record since 1981, when 9 million pounds was produced.

The state’s best years were 1952, when 521,000 hives produced nearly 49 million pounds of honey, and 1993, when 45 million pounds of honey came from the Golden State.

A general downward trend in honey production over the past few years has pushed prices to record levels. Honey of all colors averaged about $3.74 a pound in stores last year, up from $3.48 a year earlier.

Today, a producer or co-op could probably get at least $2 a pound for any honey, Brandi said, adding that lighter colors tend to be better quality and more expensive.

Contributing to the drop in California’s production is the fact that acreages for even irrigated crops such as alfalfa and cotton are down because of drought-related water cutbacks, Brandi said.

Also, as colony collapse disorder has depleted bee populations in recent years, and some colonies are too weak to make surplus honey, he said.

“Historically, prior to 2007, I had always made more income off honey than any other portion of the business,” Brandi said. “Since 2007, as a function of increased pollination fees for almonds and decreased honey production, I would say that in six of the last 10 years I’ve made more on pollination than I did on honey.”


NASS honey production report: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Todays_Reports/reports/hony0314.pdf

American Beekeeping Federation: http://www.abfnet.org


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