General questions re US/CAN commercial beekeeping
I was really pleased to see this forum opened and have been lurking for some time but I haven't yet contributed because from what I've read the industy there is much different than in NZ. I grew up in MI and may return to North America at some point down the line so I'd like to gain a better understanding of how you guys do things.
I've been working for 4 years as a commercial beek in NZ. We run ~2000 hives for pollination (kiwifruit & avocados)and manuka or bush honey as well as 400 mating nucs. We don't migrate, all our hives are <30 miles from base, all the kiwifruit is close to town and we take a couple hundred to avo orchards ~1hr away.
Looking from the outside it appears to be much more industrialized and on a larger scale there. Is there a rough number of hives/beek in the larger operations? what is the apx. percentage of time spent on hivework vs. other tasks ((un)loading, transporting, extracting, shop work, etc.)? Is it common to do all tasks in house or contract out certain aspects like transport? Do the beeks always travel with the bees?
I understand that almonds drive everything, but how does the rest of the year typically break down? I'm sure there are substantial differences depending on the focus and location of the operation. Are there any general rules of thumb for what happens post-almonds.
We're fortunate here in that our main concerns are AFB and varroa at present. With mild climate and limited disease/pest issues, winter mortality is 3~4 %, so generally we split to increase numbers or sell. I've read about multi thousand hive operations with 20-30% mortality: How are numbers maintained? Do big operators generally maintain their numbers internally or buy in pkgs to repopulate woodware? Is it typical to be self sufficient with queens?
I have solid experience managing hives for pol. and honey production, transporting hives (heavy traffic license and forklift experience), harvesting and extracting, splitting, queen rearing and manufacting/assembling woodware. I'm willing to be based nearly anywhere and move with the bees as required. How difficult would it be to find work with a commercial operation for a few months or an entire season?
I hope my questions aren't too general, specific answers re your personal experience are great if you're willing to share. I'm happy to answer any questions re: NZ bees here or will open a new thread if there's sufficient interest.
There are so many questions in your post it is difficult to know where to begin, you might get a better response if you put individual questions up for discussion, as there are no cut and dried answer to any of them. (ask 10 beekeeps a question, get 10 answers. )
As for your work qualification I doubt you would have any trouble finding work. You can post your resume in the 'help wanted' section for best results.
I had a Kiwi beekeeper work for me this season. From what I gather it sounds as if the grass is somewhat greener in NZ. There is not an overabundance of hives for Kiwi fruit pollination so beekeepers seemed to be getting a good fee for their efforts. This fortunately was before honey flow so they got that afterwards. Manuka honey is priced ridiculously high, so that it is the driving force in NZ beekeeping. Many people without beekeeping experience want to cash in on this. So plenty of opportunities to sell bees at a good price for beekeepers. That high priced manuka honey pays a lot of bills. Again as seen from the outside it looks like beekeeping is in better shape in NZ than in the USA or Canada.