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FDACS Reports Apiary Industry Flourishing in Florida

March 4, 2015

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reports the state’s apiary industry is flourishing, with a rapidly growing number of beekeepers, many of whom are expanding their operations. They are meeting the growing demand for honey, a commodity product trading at upwards of two dollars a pound; Florida is continually ranked in the top four honey producing states in the county. Florida beekeepers are also providing vital pollination services to other agricultural producers across the nation, particularly in states like California that may experience pollinator deficits during the crucial almond bloom season.

HoneyBeeFlowerAt the beginning of 2015, there were 3,400 registered beekeepers in the state, more than double the 1,110 registered in 2010, just five short years ago. In that same time period, the number of honey bee colonies maintained in Florida increased by over 40% and today nears 400,000 individual colonies. The numbers are staggering, but what is really remarkable about Florida beekeepers is just how cooperative and well-networked they are. There is hardly a national pollinator campaign that doesn’t point to Florida as a positive example when discussing the state of this vital agricultural industry.

The FDACS Division of Plant Industry’s Apiary Section credits the still-growing interest in backyard and sideline beekeeping for much of the rise in registered beekeepers. The high price of honey and the increased need for pollination services are also stimulating the industry’s growth. Currently 10 to 15 new beekeepers are registering each week, and registrations are expected to rise to about 25 per week during the spring.

Continuing Education is important

The efforts of the UF-IFAS Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory and affiliated county Extension offices, combined with the quality of their bee-related education programs throughout the state are important to the continued expansion of the industry. Experts from the FDACS-DPI Apiary Section participate in the enormously popular University of Florida Bee College, which provides training annually for novice and experienced beekeepers alike. The college is held annually in Marineland, Florida. This year it will be held March 6 -7 and anyone who is interested is encouraged to go to www.UFHoneybee.com for more information. Similarly, the UF Master Beekeeper Program, held in conjunction with the event on March 5, trains and educates beekeepers who, in turn, receive public service credits by teaching the public about the importance of honey bees and their pollination services. More than 300 Master Beekeeper Program students across the state have promoted this important message, reaching over four million people. The development of an informed population of beekeepers has resulted in the formation of more than 30 local organizations affiliated with the statewide Florida State Beekeepers Association. The FSBA has historically been a strong voice for the state’s apiary industry and is a major lobbying force on its behalf, promoting legislation such as the Florida Honey Standard.

The industry has also benefited from continuing cooperation among research institutions, regulators, and other stakeholder groups. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, for example, has taken a personal interest in fostering cooperation between citrus producers, who are engaging in intensive management techniques to control the spread of citrus greening, and beekeepers, who are concerned about the risks of pesticides to bees. The Department recently created a new position, recognizing that an emphasis on pollinator protection while protecting crop production is a challenge that requires full-time attention. The Division of Agricultural Environmental Services (AES) now has an environmental specialist in pollinator protection that is actively working to create a Florida Managed Pollinator Protection Plan. More information on the state’s bee protection efforts can be found on www.FloridaBeeProtection.org.

Florida beekeepers have, at least for the present, been able to live with Colony Collapse Disorder. Total honey bee colony losses over the 2013-14 winter dropped from an average of 30 percent to 24 percent as beekeepers have concentrated on establishing strong, healthy colonies. While the industry still struggles with Varroa mites – a proportionately gigantic external parasite of honey bees and a vector of viral infections – actions by the EPA to permit the emergency use exemption for the use of Hop Guard II (beta-acids) have provided a new control technique in the war against the mite.

Florida has also made progress against the invasive African honey bee through Best Management Practices (BMP’s) for queen breeders, as well as for maintaining European honey bees for residential and commercial beekeepers. The proliferation of managed European honey bee colonies by all beekeepers may be reducing the presence of African honey bees and lessening their impact in the state.

All in all, the apiary industry in Florida is continuing to grow despite the challenges posed by Colony Collapse Disorder and Varroa mite. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is active across divisions in its role to support this vital industry, and in fostering communication with diverse stakeholder groups. For more information please visit www.FreshFromFlorida.com; keywords: apiary, bees and bee protection.

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