World Production and Trade in Honey

Agricultural economist, Horticultural and Tropical Products Division, Commodity Programs, Foreign Agricultural Service.

Revised October 1980
Page 187

The product of the bee-honey-originates almost everywhere in the United States and in all continents of the world. World output has reached 1.3 billion pounds 2 and is rising generally. The U.S.S.R. is the world’s leading producer, with the United States a close second. The U.S.S.R. is mainly self-sufficient, however, and does not enter world honey trade to a significant degree as does the United States, which is now a major importer as well as producer. Other large producers, in order of importance in 1976, were Mexico, Australia, Argentina, France, Ethiopia, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and Canada. By regions, North America is first, followed by Europe, the U.S.S.R. (Europe and Asia), Africa, Asia, South America, and Oceania.

2 22.2 pounds equal 1 kilogram (1,000 kilograms equal 1 metric ton).

Yields per colony vary from country to country for various reasons, such as the numbers of commercial beekeepers versus hobbyists, and weather and other conditions that can change from one year to the next. For example, in 1975, yields averaged 99 pounds per hive in Australia and 92 pounds in Canada; 73 pounds in Argentina and 70 pounds in Israel. In other selected countries, yields in 1975 were as follows (in pounds per colony): Chile, 33; France, 18; West Germany, 20; Italy, 18; Japan, 46; Mexico, 44; United States, 46; and United Kingdom, 26.

World honey trade has grown to almost 300 million pounds annually. Mexico is the world’s leading exporter, with other important suppliers being Argentina, the PRC, Australia, Hungary, Spain, and Canada. Europe still accounts for nearly 70 percent of all honey imports, with about 40 percent of the total going to West Germany. The United States has become a large importer and ranked second in 1975, closely followed by Japan and the United Kingdom. In 1976, West Germany imported honey valued at $43.8 million; the average price was 39.7 cents per pound.

Mexico and Argentina export large proportions of their honey production. No data are available on the PRC’s total output. Australia consumes most of its production at home, exporting the surplus. Mexico’s output gradually is trending upward as colony numbers increase and the use of modern hives rises. West Germany continues to be Mexico’s major market, with the United States second. Although Mexico’s exports to the United States have been averaging about 10 million pounds, the amount rose to an estimated 31 million pounds in 1976.

U.S. honey output has declined gradually in recent years, while imports have increased. Total U.S. supply has remained about the same. During 1976, U.S. honey imports climbed to 66 million pounds-a new record. Mexico is the main source of U.S. imports, followed by Argentina, Canada, and Australia. Recently, U.S. imports from Brazil have increased and that country was ranked fifth in 1975 and 1976. Honey imported from Mexico traditionally has been of the darker grades, but lighter types are now coming from that source. Most honey imported from Argentina and Canada is of the lighter table grades.

The United States also exports honey, but these exports are decreasing as U.S. production declines and imports grow. In 1976, the United States exported only 4.7 million pounds of honey, with West Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada the main destinations. Much of this is specialty-type honeys, whereas in former years most U.S. honey exports were in bulk.

As world honey production has risen, so has world consumption of this natural sweet. Honey increasingly is being looked on as a health food, both in this country and abroad. Although the honey bee is a valuable pollinator of farm crops, no rent is received by most of the world’s beekeepers for this necessary service, leaving the production of honey as the major source of cash income for beekeepers, now and for the foreseeable future.