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.
DOLLAR VALUE OF HONEY BEE POLLINATION IN IOWA*
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
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.