Each October Bee Culture magazine surveys our 100 or so regular honey producer/reporters from all parts of the U.S. By October 10 or so much of the U.S. crop has been harvested, and beekeepers have a pretty good feel for what they will be making, even if some is still in the field. These reporters also subjectively (but with years of experience behind them) rank their crop with values ranging from 1 very good, to 5 very bad. (What is very good for a beekeeper in Ohio may be nearly a crop failure for a beekeeper in Florida it depends on how each runs their business.)
They also tell us how good their spring crop was and if they harvested any then, and the same for their summer and the fall crops. And they give us the average production of each of their colonies over the whole season ... not just those that produced honey, but all of them, which is different than the only other survey of this sort that tackle the subject.
Then, beginning with the latest USDA U.S. colony count (which came out in February this year) we adjust that number up or down based on information from our reporters, and then multiply the average colony production our reporters give us, and come up with an estimate of how much honey was produced this season. Weve been doing this for several years now, and were pretty good ... maybe even better than the USDAs figures because, although we have a smaller sample of beekeepers, we have a more finely tuned sample that reflects each honey producing region. The 10 largest honey producing states have more reporters, and more influence in the final figures than, say Rhode Island, which has hardly any honey production.
So what we have is a pretty good picture of U. S. honey production this past season ... which is a good part of the overall picture of what honey costs, but certainly not all of it. Imports from honey producing countries around the world certainly have an impact on the honey market in the U. S. but imports are a function of production in those countries, too, as is demand in the U. S. market. So we need to start at home.
And the key player this year ... the weather! No surprise there if you ventured outside more than once this summer, no matter where you live ... it was one weird weather event, all summer long. Most of the east and mid-west was cool and wet, the south was hot and dry or way too wet and much of the northwest and west was dry and hot, too. Florida and the gulf states, particularly Texas and Louisiana did fairly well this summer, as did the mountain states and California.
The consistent top 10 honey producing states are the 2 Dakotas, California, Florida, Montana, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Texas and bringing up tenth, depending on the year ... Idaho, Georgia or New York. These 10 states produce right about 75% of all the honey in the U.S. each year ... meaning the rest of us pretty much produce squat every year.
But how much honey? Twenty four years ago, before Varroa mites came to live here and before honey production was a major industry in several countries as an export market, the U.S. was producing something like 220 milion pounds a year, with hardly any honey imports at all. Of course back then, even a minor producing state like Ohio had 9,000 beekeepers. Last year, the U. S. produced only 160 million pounds, and Ohio had about 3,200 beekeepers. You can see the problem.
Last year the U.S. produced, by our estimate, about 61 pounds of honey for each of the 2.564 million colonies we figured were honey producers for a total of 156.4 million pounds of honey. USDA measured 161.1 million pounds. Weve been that close since we started. I like our numbers better, but why quibble over a 3% difference.
So, this year our predictions are that 2.223 million colonies (down from last year because of colony losses to colony collapse disorder and last years poor honey crop) will produce 53.7 pounds of honey each, for a total of 119.37 million pounds of U. S. produced honey ... this is, friends, the worst honey crop ever. EVER!
But, interestingly, demand hasnt dropped an ounce since those pre-Varroa days. Per capita, we consume right about 1.25 pounds of honey every year, and every year there are more people in this country. When you actually ask folks however, it turns out that right about 50% of the population actually goes out and buys honey. About 35% never buy, or eat honey, while the rest only consume it in foods that have it as an ingredient, like teas, breads, salad dressings and BBQ sauces. Which means, then, that the rest of us actually are consuming far more that that 1.25 pounds each ... probably closer to 22.5 pounds each. In my house, the two of us consume over 10 pounds a year ... nearly a pound a month ... but I suspect we are somewhat above average.
So, since the U.S. consumes almost 375 million pounds of honey a year (300 million people x 1.25 pounds/year), and produces, this year, only 120,000,000 pounds, where will the rest come from? Well, this year thats a good question. Generally, we can count on Canada, Argentina, China, Brazil and a few other countries to make up the bulk of this shortfall. But mostly, those countries, too, have had less than stellar production seasons. Argentina has turned into the soybean capital of the world, and Canada had weather similar to ours, so their production isnt as great this year as it could be.
China sells almost everything they produce to Europe now, because Europe cant get what they were getting from Argentina. Plus, for several years China has been playing fast and loose with tariffs imposed by our country to offset the imbalance in their prices. They were, for a time, charging something in the neighborhood of $0.25/pound for their honey ... while U.S. beekeepers need something like $1.50/pound just to break even.
And then there are the circumvention issues ... to avoid paying the tariffs Chinese exporters were sending honey to the U.S. through secondary countries at almost those same ridiculous prices. Some were caught red-handed and punished, and that seems to have slowed the rush of that honey into the U.S. from anywhere. Too, there have been concerns with Chinese honey containing what are here considered illegal chemical residues ... bacterial control agents applied to their bees to keep them healthy. They are illegal in Europe, too, and right now Europe is buying a lot -- well, almost all of Chinas honey. That Chinese beekeepers have changed their practices seems odd, but perhaps....
So, honey in the U.S. is scarce. And scarce seems to cause prices to rise ... the old supply and demand thing. But then theres the exchange rate -- the U.S. dollar is weak. U. S. honey packers might actually have a better market overseas than at home, so that just might limit further any available product ... demand stays the same, supply becomes even shorter. Prices ... ?
So ... in the short run, the price of honey this winter is probably going to go up some. Maybe a lot. And you may not be able to find local honey later this winter.
My advice ... buy lots now. It might not be there later, and it will cost more later. And now you know why.
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