Beekeeping has provided many South Dakota residents with a satisfying and continually interesting hobby. Others have found it to be a profitable sideline occupation. The commercial beekeeper has found that this phase of agriculture provides him with an independent and respectable way of making a comfortable living.
South Dakota’s soils, topography and climate generally provide the essential natural ingredients for the production of sizeable crops of high quality honey. The keeping of honey bees, like all other South Dakota agricultural businesses, is dependent on the vagaries of South Dakota weather.
There are 185 South Dakotans keeping bees in the state. Around 100 of these maintain their bees on a commercial scale. As for total number of colonies (hives), South Dakota usually ranks in the top five states. Third in 2008 with 225,000 colonies; third in 2007 with 255,000; and third in 2006 with 225,000 colonies.
South Dakota produced a highly desirable, mild flavored and light colored alfalfa-sweetclover blend of honey which ranks near the top of the states. In 2008, South Dakota ranked second with 21,375,000 pounds of honey; third in 2007 with 13,260,000 pounds; and fourth in 2006 with 10,575,000 pounds of honey.
The value of these crops in South Dakota was $28,643,000 in 2008, $13,525,000 in 2007, and $10,046,000 in 2006. These figures illustrate the amount of financial advantage to South Dakota in the form of salaries for employees, taxes, cost of vehicle maintenance, supplies, residential and commercial real estate purchased or rented in the state, and other expenditures made by beekeepers in the conduct of their operations in the state.
While the value of honey and beeswax production is a notable figure in South Dakota, the value of honey bees as pollinators of agricultural crops is vitally important. Since beekeepers in South Dakota conduct their operations primarily for honey production, there are usually no charges for this pollination service in the state. According to a Cornell University study, honey bee pollination adds $10.7 billion to the value of the crops they pollinate. Today’s intensive farming methods have eliminated the pollination provided by wild pollinating bees such as bumble bees and similar ground nesting species.
Thus, the importance of honey bees as pollinators becomes greater every year. The value of this spin off benefit provided by honey bees in South Dakota provides a very valuable contribution to the state. The farm crops generally recognized as improved by honey bee pollination are alfalfa seed and hybrid sunflower seed production. Fruits in commercial and home orchards benefiting from honey bee pollination include applies, pears, cherries, plums, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and strawberries. Properly pollinated fruits are more numerous and more completely developed. Commercial and home vegetable gardens benefit from honey bee pollination as well. Some of these crops are watermelons, muskmelons, squashes, pumpkins and cucumbers. Production here also results in increased numbers of more completely developed vegetables when adequately pollinated by honey bees.
Honey bees provide another often overlooked advantage to South Dakota. This is the value of the bee’s service to wildlife in the production of food and cover. For example, the production of sweetclover seed in waste areas provides seed as winter food for pheasants and other birds, winter wind protection and seed to maintain the plant population over the years. Another example is the pollination by honey bees of wild rose blossoms to produce the red fruits or rose hips. These hips are an important source of winter food for grouse as well as other wildlife species.
Honey Bee Problems
Honey bees, like all other animals, are afflicted with certain diseases, parasites, predators and other environmental problems. The beekeeper through his management techniques can successfully control these problems in his bees in most cases. For example: insecticides when applied to crops in bloom can kill all of the field bees and in some cases when carried back to the nest kill all the bees in the hive as well. South Dakota beekeepers regularly notify aerial sprayers in their areas of the locations of their bee yards.
The spray pilots then notify the beekeepers if insecticides for grasshoppers or sunflower pests, for example, will be applied to blooming crops within two or three miles of the bee yards. The pilots are also careful to apply such hazardous sprays on non-blooming crops so they do not drift over the bee yards. With several hours notice of the time of the sprays will be applied, the beekeeper can confine his bees to keep them out of the sprayed area during application and for several hours thereafter. The bees are thus unharmed and the damaging insects are controlled.
Ground applicators using field sprayers can also avoid killing the beneficial honey bees in the same manner by notifying the local beekeeper prior to spraying. In most areas of South Dakota there is at least one bee yard within flight range of any field crop.
If you want additional information about beekeeping in South Dakota or if you would like a speaker on the topic at your community schools, club or service organization contact your local beekeeper or write to:
South Dakota Department of Agriculture
Division of Agricultural Services
523 East Capitol Ave., Foss Bldg.
Pierre, South Dakota 57501-3182
P: 605.773.3796 F: 605.773.3481
Keep in mind that beekeepers, like farmers and ranchers, are intensively busy during the summer season. Winter or evening meetings will be more appropriate.
The next time you see a honey bee industriously working on blooming plants in your area, smile, relax and remember that she is one of the many hard working and helpful neighbors with which you are blessed in this wonderful state of South Dakota!