South Dakota is regularly among the biggest contributors to the honey industry in the United States. It is also among the leaders in the pollination industry, so any untypical loss in honey bees is going to set the state back considerably. Due to the significant loss of hives over the last year, the entire country will more than likely feel the pain due to the losses of these beekeepers in the form of higher prices for fruits, vegetables, and possibly even nuts.
In 2018, South Dakota ranked fourth in the entire country in terms of honey products. That year, the state’s beekeepers produced a massive $23 million in honey sales from more than 255,000 hives. The losses over this past winter, though, are putting many of the crops at risk in terms of yield.
In a typical year, South Dakota beekeepers will lose about 30 percent of their hives. This year, however, they had a 30 percent increase, meaning most beekeepers lost at least 40 percent of their hives. While other states are battling Varroa mites and pesticide issues, one of the problems that is creeping up in South Dakota creates a much different challenge.
According to local beekeeper Tim Hollman, bees in South Dakota are running out of food. Farmers have cleared what were once pastures where the bees feasted and have turned them into plant rows of crops such as corn and soybeans. Additionally, he stated the farmers have gotten more skilled at eliminating what they deem to be purposeless flowering plants, such as sweet clover and milkweed. This, when coupled with the Varroa mite and pesticide issues is creating more and more loss to the beekeeping industry.
Another local beekeeper in the area stated the losses were actually under-reported. Bret Adee, who is the co-owner of Adee Honey Farms, stated that some operations lost as much as 70 percent of their bees. Adee would know, as he had to close one of his operations that is run in another state. After being in business in Nebraska for 60 years, he was forced to close down because “we didn’t have enough bees in our boxes.”
The honey from this party of the country is always in high demand due to its floral characteristics, light color, and mild flavor. However, production in recent years is falling off and over the last two decades, Kelvin Adee, Bret’s brother, stated that hives are only producing about 50 percent as much honey as they were in decades past. He stated, “We’re kind of in the darkest days of the industry right now.” At that rate and factoring in the consistent losses to their hives, Adee stated, “that’s getting to be unsustainable.”