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Beekeeping Industry in Iowa Facts

Honey bees are an important part of Iowa’s agri-ecosystem. Currently, about 1500 beekeepers in Iowa keep 30,000 colonies of honey bees. Less than 100 of these beekeepers operate bees on a commercial basis with the remainder being sideline or hobbyist beekeepers. These honey bees have produced an average of 3.1 million pounds of honey annually, valued at $3.5 million for the last five years. However, beekeeping is valued much more for the pollination of important plants in Iowa than for the honey that is produced. (see table below) Field and horticultural crops, home gardens and plants eaten by wildlife are dependent on bee pollination for the production of their fruits, nuts and seeds.

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DOLLAR VALUE OF HONEY BEE POLLINATION IN IOWA*

Crops

%PollinationDependence on bees

Value-$ millions

 

Apples
Strawberries
Raspberries


90%
2.6

 

Melons
Pumpkins
Cucumbers
Squash


80%
1.4

 

Soybeans

 

5%
88.0
Total
 
$92 million

Dollar values based on 1989 USDA reports

The best estimate of the value of honey bee pollination in Iowa is $92 million annually. Honey bees enhance yields of some crops (e.g. soybeans, peas, grapes and peppers), while some crops are almost entirely dependent on bee pollination for the production of fruits (e.g. apples, melons, squash). Because most of this pollination service is provided free of charge in Iowa, the honey and beeswax that the bees produce is the only incentive for beekeepers to raise bees. Without a healthy beekeeping industry all of agriculture would be damaged.

In many areas modern agricultural practices have virtually eliminated many wild insect pollinators. As a result, we are much more dependent on the managed honey bees for pollination than in the past. Many environmental factors are detrimental to the health of honey bees. These include bacterial and viral diseases, pesticide poisoning, severe winters and importation of exotic parasites and the highly defensive Africanized “killer” honey bees. If these problems go unabated, the honey bee populations in Iowa would be drastically reduced, resulting in decreased agricultural production.

The need for a state apiarist providing instruction on the profitable management of apiaries and inspection to control the spread of bee diseases and parasites has long been recognized. The first state apiarist was appointed in 1912 and has been an important function of the Department of Agriculture until 2001. No other publicly funded entity addresses honey bees. No major university in Iowa has a teaching, research or extension program with beekeeping. In addition, there is no Iowa honey promotion board to conduct any of these functions.

The apiary bureau until 2001 provided valuable beekeeping information, through lectures, seminars and workshops, personal consultations with beekeepers and a monthly newsletter going to about 600 beekeepers. Topics such as prevention of the spread and treatment of bee diseases and parasites, identification of diseases and parasites, over wintering bees in Iowa, harvesting, packaging and marketing the honey crop and removing nuisance bees were covered in this educational program. In addition, presentations on the life of the honey bee and beekeeping were made to public and private school children and civic organizations.

The Apiary Bureau used to inspect about 10,000 colonies of bees each year belonging to about 350 beekeepers, half of which are transported to southern states and California for the winter. These colonies must be certified disease-free to be transported interstate. When beekeepers experienced problems with their bees they often contacted the state apiarist for help in diagnosing the problems and received help in finding a remedy.

Complaints of bee problems by the general public were handled by the State Apiarist. The Apiary Bureau used to respond to these calls by providing over-the-phone instruction on bee identification and swarm removal, coordinating efforts with beekeepers to remove the problem bees or occasionally personally removing bees when necessary.


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