Among folks not familiar with the industry, a common assumption is that honey is the main revenue source for a beekeeper. And that makes sense—they're called honey bees for a reason, right? Most folks know that honey bees are "pollinators," but few understand the extent of how much value they create through pollination.
In fact, commercial beekeepers generate most of their revenue from renting their hives to growers for pollination. On the recent Bloomberg Business of Bees podcast, reporters talked to beekeepers about how their services have shifted over the years. Around this time in the season, beekeepers must decide between making more hives, so you can collect more rental fees, or stronger hives, so you can collect as much honey revenue as possible.
POLLINATION / HONEY REVENUE CALCULATOR
This made me wonder, what’s the math on this tradeoff? How does honey and pollination revenue compare? I built this calculator to help beekeepers estimate their income potential:
A FEW NOTES
Of course, every beekeeper has unique factors to consider, so this may not capture your exact situation. I had to make some basic assumptions to make this work and there are countless variables I couldn't include. Fore example, geographic location of your sites will affect trucking costs and honey yield (see our trucking cost analysis), pollination rental fees, sale prices for honey, and how many splits you can do on each hive.
Math and assumptions I used: Honey Revenue: # hives selected * average yield/hive (taken from USDA latest honey report) * Average price (also from USDA latest report)
Pollination revenue: # hives selected * 2 (splitting once) * 85% (hives shipped for pollination) * pollination price selected
Other things to note:
Only looks at revenue, not costs.
Some states were combined in the USDA report and their honey yield and price were averaged, due to a low amount of data collected from those states. These states were: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.
Pollination prices were based on min and max prices from interviews with growers and beekeepers. This year's average was $190.
This calculator is just a start of a project I'd like to keep building. I think there aren't enough online resources for beekeepers and I'd like to change that. Many beekeepers operate in isolated regions and they tend to stick with what's worked in the past. My hope is to show beekeepers that better opportunities might exist if they're willing to switch things up.