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Introduction

By E. C. MARTIN
Retired, formerly staff scientist, National Program Staff, Science and Education Administration.

BEEKEEPING IN THE UNITED STATES
AGRICULTURE HANDBOOK NUMBER 335
Revised October 1980
Page 1

Beekeeping is an ancient art that has fascinated its devotees since earliest times. Honey robbed from wild colonies in trees or caves was early people’s main source of sweet food. Dominance of honey as the major sweetener continued until cane and beet sugar became generally available in comparatively recent times. Honey with its unique flavors and aromas and natural origin still has wide appeal. World production was estimated at 1,446 million pounds in 1976 and more than 1,415 million pounds in 1977.

In the United States about 200,000 people keep almost 5 million colonies and produce 200 million to 250 million pounds of honey annually. Beekeepers can be classified as full-time, sideline, or hobbyist, with the number of colonies operated by individual owners varying from one to 30,000. Beekeepers derive income from the sale of honey, renting of colonies for crop pollination, production and sale of queen bees and packaged bees, and to a minor extent, from the sale of beeswax, pollen, bee venom, propolis, and royal jelly.

Problems and dangers confront the long-time survival of beekeeping as a profitable agricultural enterprise, and changing agricultural and land-use practices threaten the survival of adequate numbers of bees required to pollinate some 90 crops or more. As human population increases, houses, factories, and highways replace open fields of honey and pollen plants.

Clean cultivation of farmland and large-scale mono culture reduce the sequence of wild plants needed to provide bee food throughout the season.

Pesticides not only kill many bees, but bees also cannot be kept in areas where pesticides are used on a regular basis-such as near fruit orchards and many cottonfields. The presence of nectar and pollen plants in adequate numbers throughout the season is essential to prosperous beekeeping. In the national interest, beekeeping must survive. If it is to do so, it will need greater consideration than it now receives in land-use planning, in the revegetating of disturbed land, in large-scale weed and pest control programs, and in providing beekeeping sanctuaries on State and Federal lands.

Crop pollination is more essential to agricultural production than is generally realized. To maintain an adequate pollinating force of bees in all parts of the country, beekeeping must remain a viable, prosperous industry. Beekeeping will survive in strength adequate to our needs only if we can reverse the trend of recent years toward a deteriorating environment for bees.

The purpose of this handbook is to provide readers with a better understanding of beekeeping in the United States. It is not a beginner’s book in the how-to-do-it sense, but it does provide the beginner as well as the experienced beekeeper with a good insight into the status of this small but essential industry.

Dr. E. F. Phillips, one of the early leaders of research in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said that more had been written about bees than any living thing other than human beings. Books, bulletins, and bee journals still provide evidence that our fascination with bees and beekeeping continues unabated. Beekeepers of this generation must try to make sure that we bequeath an environment in which bees may profitably be kept by future generations.