Let's look at it from the perspective of somebody with a foot in each camp.
I used to be a commercial beekeeper, but retired. Got bored, now I have some hives, I'm a hobbyist. At todays count I have 108 hives, and 200 ish nucs. I also am in both camps re treatment free. Most of the hives get treated if needed, but I also have some treatment free, small cell hives.
Being able to focus all my attention on just a few hives, they have done extremely well, and profitably, and now earn me a not unsubstantial sum of money. Of the treated hives, over the last 4 years I've been doing this, I have lost only 3. That's simply because I know pretty much what's going on with each individual hive, if one has something wrong, I fix it.
Less so the treatment free hives. They went well initially, but this year were hardly productive, and losses of them are starting to mount. Goes very much against the grain for me, losing a hive. But I am toughing it out, attempting to stick faithfully to the methods promoted by the prominent treatment free beekeepers.
Based on what I'm seeing in my own hives, I doubt I could survive commercially on the treatment free hives, in fact more accurately, I am sure I couldn't. Production is much lower, and they keep dying.
To take another tack on the subject, The people I get my treatment free information from here on Beesource, I know a number of them started out with high ideals, and wanting to be commercial beekeepers. But they didn't achieve it, because they are treatment free. They just could not get increase hive numbers enough. Eventually they resigned themselves to keeping bees, but getting their income by means other than what their bees produce.
Then there are the other "successful TF commercial beekeepers" mentioned. I don't know and in any case would not share their incomes, but I do know they live, shall we say, simply.
Treatment free commercial beekeeping is a noble goal. For those who want a fair income, I would not recommend trying it. But that's now. In the future, as bees are continually bred and improved, it may be possible.
Another thing, I keep hearing bandied around by those who wouldn't know, that your bees are just as likely to die whether you treat them or not. That is a total misrepresentation of the facts. The large outfits that from time to time have big losses, have completely different circumstances to the treatment free hobby beekeeper with 1/2 dozen stationary hives. If these large guys did not treat, given what their bees are exposed to, they would probably have 100% losses. That's why they treat. Not because they are idiots.
I also feel rather more entitled to speak on this, than somebody who has had one hive for 2 weeks, but has done a lot of talking, getting most of his assumptions wrong. And we have been told the commercial guys who treat should not be able to comment, because they have not tried both. Wouldn't that also apply to some TF beekeepers who have not tried both? They have no point of reference to see how their bees are doing against a similarly run treated hive. Add to that, that a lot of commercial beekeepers have experimented with TF. Sqkcrk, for example, has told us he has a stationary bee yard that has never been treated. If it's got quite a lot of hives, that makes him a more experienced TF beekeeper than most here.
My intention with this post is not to offend anyone, it's more about injecting some reality & exposing some of the dross. My own feelings on the matter are bees are getting better and better, and moving ever closer to that goal of not needing treatment, even if kept under commercial conditions. Let's hope it happens. If I didn't want that, I would not be trying to develop treatment free bees myself.
Throughout my postings on Beesource, I have told things how I see them. Where this is in conflict with somebody elses beliefs, I have sometimes been attacked, and on occasion ridiculed. Having my share of human failings, I have sometimes responded in kind. But none of that changes what I've seen over my time of working with bees.