Increasing Honey Prices Have Farmers And Consumers Buzzing
GAINESVILLE—Want the real buzz on honey?
Prices are soaring, up almost 100 percent in the last two years alone, according to a bee expert at the University of Florida.
Tom Sanford, an extension beekeeping specialist at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said the tremendous rise in honey prices can be attributed to a worldwide honey shortage which has pushed world market prices of the sweet, sticky, golden syrup from 40 cents per pound to around 80 to 90 cents per pound today.
“For several years, the price of honey was low, and producers got out of the business,” Sanford said. “Add in problems with pests and weather, and you have much less supply.”
There are also fewer honeybees, Sanford said. Honey producers have seen their bee populations greatly reduced by the exotic bee mite “varroa” which feeds on the honeybee, causing colonies to die. Major honey-producing areas of the world, including Australia, Canada and Mexico, have not been able to produce as much honey because of pest problems, including the varroa mite and the more aggressive African bee.
The mite was introduced into Florida’s beekeeping industry almost 10 years ago and has taken a heavy toll on wild honeybees in Florida. Then in 1990, the African bee entered the United States by way of Mexico and Texas, and scientists believed it would quickly migrate to the tropical climate of Florida. But the African bee has not had the devastating impact on Florida’s honey industry that was once feared, said H. Glenn Hall, a UF/IFAS associate professor of honeybee genetics.
In 1995, the U.S. honey crop averaged 64.4 cents per pound, a 22 percent increase from 1994. U.S. beekeepers produced 210 million pounds in 1995, a 3 percent decrease from the previous year. According to a 1995 honey crop analysis by the Florida Agricultural Statistics Service, Florida ranks fourth nationally behind North Dakota, South Dakota and California in honey production, and last year the state’s beekeepers produced more than 19 million pounds of honey, a 2 percent increase over 1994 production figures.
Reports from Canada show that in the last six months of 1995, Canadian honey imports into the United States increased from 850,000 pounds to 1.07 million pounds as the average price rose from 56 cents to 70.9 cents per pound, Sanford said. The current price quote runs from 93 cents to $1.04 per pound for good quality, white clover honey.
High honey prices have also raised beekeepers’ interest in shifting their emphasis from commercial pollination to honey production. An increase in honey prices could mean fewer pollinator bees would be available for farmers growing crops that require pollination, such as watermelons, squash, and cucumbers. Sanford said a limited supply of pollinator bees would mean higher costs for many fruit and vegetable growers. The potential lack of pollinators is a concern outside of Florida as well, since most fruits and vegetables consumed globally grow as a result of pollination.
Honey prices have also increased as a result of an anti-dumping suit recently won by U.S. honey producers, Sanford said. The legislative action limits the amount of honey that can be imported and sold to consumers.
Mexico’s honey production began dropping after the introduction of the African bee, a species that is much more defensive than the European honeybee. The African bee is now established in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, and was most recently found in California.
Hall said scientists had predicted that Florida would be the most severely affected state, and that the African bees would seriously impact the U.S. honey industry by 1994. But it now appears that the rapid migration of African bees from Mexico has stalled in Texas.
Researchers continue to question why the easterly migration of the African bees has slowed since their arrival into North America, but they think one reason could be that the same mites destroying domestic honeybee colonies may be holding back the African bees. Another possibility is the occurrence of hybridization between African bees and European honeybees in temperate regions where the European species is at an advantage and where hybrids may survive better than in tropical regions, Hall said.
“A few years ago, we certainly thought they would spread to Florida before California,” Hall said. “The situation for Florida is looking much better now, but it could change and become a real serious problem for us.”
Laurence Cutts, chief apiary inspector for Florida’s Division of Plant Industry, said the state’s agriculture department is working with the USDA on a task force recommendation for a protective program that includes the use of bait hives at deepwater ports to intercept colonies entering by ship. In the last 11 years, 11 swarms of African bees have been intercepted at ports around the state.
“We are very confident those 11 swarms are all that have come in, since our second and third lines of defense haven’t needed to be used,” Cutts said. “African bees are undesirable because they’re more defensive in protecting their hives, and they are also bad for commercial use, in that they have a stronger tendency to swarm and more readily leave their hives if manipulated. But the African bees are nothing like the science- fiction movies that are made about them.”