Policy: Environment & Energy

Early rains have honey producers optimistic

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Photo - FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2013, file photo, Jaime Garcia scrapes honey off a frame at the Adee Honey Farms plant in Bruce, S.D. South Dakota honey farmers are hoping for a rebound in production this year after last summer's cool temperatures hampered the crop. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 20, 2013, file photo, Jaime Garcia scrapes honey off a frame at the Adee Honey Farms plant in Bruce, S.D. South Dakota honey farmers are hoping for a rebound in production this year after last summer's cool temperatures hampered the crop. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota honey producers are banking on a rebound in production this year after last summer's cool temperatures led to a 9 percent drop of the sweet stuff.

Bees prefer to collect nectar when temperatures range from the 70s to 90s degrees, and won't bring back as much to the hive in cooler weather. But the average high in Sioux Falls last June was 2.2 degrees cooler than normal and July was 1.4 degrees cooler, according to the National Weather Service.

In response, the state slid from second to third in U.S. honey production in 2013 as the crop fell to 14.84 million pounds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

The production slowdown, which resulted in a $1.4 million loss for South Dakota keepers, comes at a time of continuing bee loss from colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon scientists are still investigating but has caused as many as one-third of the nation's bees to disappear each winter since 2006.

Some early spring rains are encouraging beekeepers, who Sturgis Honey owner John Stolle said tend to be optimistic by nature.

"There are no real guarantees because it might never rain again from here on in," Stolle said. "But we have ground moisture to start with, and that's been a rarity here lately."

Stolle said he's hoping for warmer temperatures this summer, but the spring moisture should help the alfalfa and clover to grow, giving his bees a source for the nectar they bring back to the hives.

"Hopefully if we get a couple of showers through the season, that should sure propel us into a decent season," he said.

Nationwide, honey production in 2013 climbed 5 percent to 149 million pounds, bringing with it record prices of $2.12 cents per pound — up 6 percent from $1.99 per pound in 2012.

Though South Dakota suffered, North Dakota remained queen bee in the nation, reporting a 33.12 million pound crop for the second straight year. Conditions in the western and northern parts of the state were prime for honey production, making up for the lack of warmth and fewer nectar-producing plants in eastern North Dakota.

Montana passed South Dakota for second by nearly doubling its crop from 2012 to 14.95 million pounds.

During a typical summer, bees carry pollen back to their hives until the early part of September, and producers will extract honey from rectangular beehive frames through October. Bees are then shipped to California to pollinate almond crops and to Washington to pollinate apples.

The hives are just returning to South Dakota, state apiarist Bob Reiners said.

"Everybody's pretty excited right now," Reiners said. "Everybody I've talked to their bees look better than they did a year ago at this time."

Stolle said some warm weather in June would be a big help to this year's crop. The weather service shows August 2013 temperatures were normal and September in Sioux Falls was 5.4 degrees higher than normal.

"When you only have about a three-month window for gathering honey and you lose one of those months, that kind of puts a damper on things," Stolle said.

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Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ddlammers

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