In case you missed them, the 2018 national beekeeping conferences took place last week; the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) in Reno and the American Honey Producers Association (AHPA) in San Diego. Here are some key takeaways and trends we found.
The biggest takeaway from both conferences was the surprisingly low turnout. We heard all kinds of theories, from poor weather across the country to a nasty virus going around. But even with the slow foot traffic this year, there was still plenty of business being made. I’ll be the first to admit that vendors love to complain even when things are just fine.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about the new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule, which went into effect on December 18th. The new rule requires commercial truckers to install an ELD to track hours on the road. This change is causing uncertainty for two reasons: costs are expected to rise, and non-stop trips might be at risk.
Agriculture truckers were given a 90-day waiver to comply, which covers those of us trucking bees out for almond season. But come March, you’ll need an ELD to transport hives. For beekeepers, automated trucking can’t come soon enough.
Another hot topic creating buzz this year was the extreme weather that devastated many apiaries in 2017. Beekeepers from Texas and Florida faced severe flooding from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while California beekeepers battled historic wildfires and drought.
Obviously we can’t control the weather, but it’s frustrating that some of the best climates to keep hives are starting to become more and more volatile.
Technology and innovation
While we were all in Reno and San Diego, the top tech companies in the world came together in Las Vegas for CES 2018. But that didn’t stop beekeeping tech companies from going all out for ABF and AHPA. It seems like each year there are more and more innovative companies popping up at beekeeping conferences to showcase their products.
Competition is growing, which means faster innovation and lower prices are soon to come. It’s an exciting time for technology in beekeeping.
Theft and vandalism
We’re all aware that hive theft is becoming a bigger issue these days. With almond prices at an all-time high, it makes sense that some shady beekeepers would steal hives to earn a quick and easy payday. But lately there’s been a growing threat of vandalism, and the motives are puzzling.
What kind of sadistic person stumbles upon a bee yard and thinks, “hey, these would be fun to destroy!” No self-respecting beekeeper would intentionally wipe out a site simply to get an insurance check. Right? I’m not pointing any fingers here, but if a beekeeper expects to lose a bunch of hives in a bee yard, this could be a good way to cover their loses.
Where to overwinter your hives has always been an important question for beekeepers. No matter which climate and region of the country you prefer, at the end of the day you’re still banking on a mild winter to hopefully avoid wild temperatures.
But more and more beekeepers are shifting towards a new solution: overwintering inside giant climate-controlled warehouses normally used to store crops. Companies like Agri-Stor are making a major push, causing beekeepers to re-think how they overwinter their hives. Expect to see more of these cold-storage warehouses cropping up across the country.
There’s so much in store for the beekeeping industry in 2018. I expect to see many exciting new developments and opportunities as our industry continues to grow and adapt.
We spent the past 4 weeks traveling across the country (plus Canada) to attend 5 of the most prominent state beekeeping conferences. Below are some takeaways and impressions from this year’s fall conferences in Oregon, Ohio, Texas, California and New York/Ontario.
Whether you’re planning to organize, exhibit at, or simply attend a beekeeping conference next year, these notes should serve as a useful outline for what to expect.
Our first conference kicked off with one of my favorite programs I saw this fall. Prior to the actual conference, the Oregon State Beekeepers hosted a Commercial Beekeepers Workshop in conjunction with GloryBee and Project Apis m. This workshop covered some really boring stuff like risk management and food safety laws, but these are topics that very serious commercial beekeepers take very seriously.
It’s refreshing to see programming like this designed to teach important business topics not related to beekeeping. This is something I hope to see a lot more of in our industry. As beekeepers become more business-savvy, our industry will start to become more efficient and competitive.
As for the conference itself, I was surprised to see such an even mix of hobbyists, sideliners and commercial guys in attendance. It didn’t seem like the event catered to one type of beekeeper—there was useful programming for all levels.
I think some of the credit goes to the Oregon commercial beekeepers for this. Though they have the resources to make the conference all about them, they made sure to make newbees and hobbyists feel welcome as well.
We took a quick road trip to the Buckeye state, where we stumbled upon some more great programming. This conference was almost exclusively targeted at hobbyists, which makes sense because there aren’t very many large-scale operations in the Midwest.
One thing that really struck me: each session featured a class about technology in beekeeping. Our industry desperately needs to catch up to the times with respect to integrating technology. It’s encouraging to see hobbyists start to take on this challenge, but we really need commercial guys to step up to the plate and fuel innovation.
The Buckeye organizers excelled at vendor coordination. There were 34(!) vendors in Ohio, compared to Oregon’s modest 15. I don’t mean to throw shade at Oregon, but that is seriously impressive for an event targeted towards hobbyists.
Special shout out to organizer Dawn, who went way above and beyond. Dawn made sure lunches and water bottles were delivered to each vendor’s table, and she even had spare cash on hand in case a vendor needed change!
Texas was a last-second addition to our fall conference tour, so we’re thankful that the organizers were able to squeeze us in. This conference was a lot like Oregon, in that it featured a really solid mix of hobbyists, sideliners and commercial beekeepers.
We got a chance to sit in on the group’s business meeting, which turned out to be my favorite part of the whole event. I was really impressed by how well-organized and engaged members were. Although it seemed like the members were mostly hobbyists and the leaders were mostly commercial, members were unafraid to question leaders’ decisions, and leaders were responsive to members’ input.
I found it really interesting to watch this meeting in action because I’d never seen such active membership within a state beekeeping association. The success of the Texas Beekeepers Association can speak for itself—membership has grown substantially over the past few years.
California’s conference was seriously impressive. This conference was like the Academy Awards for beekeeping; all the big players were there. I probably looked like a little kid being taken on a tour through a MLB clubhouse.
There was so much to take away from this conference. For one, there couldn’t have been more than 5 hobbyists in attendance. Although it was good for business to get engaged with so many commercial operations, it would be nice to see the interests of California hobbyists represented a little better.
The diversity of vendors and industry stakeholders made up for the lack of hobbyists to a certain degree. All sorts of companies came out to Lake Tahoe to show off their products; from hive equipment to pharmaceuticals, and from insurance to trucks. If you use a product for beekeeping, there’s a good chance that the manufacturing company was in attendance.
Easily the best part of the programming was the vendor’s reception on the first evening. Given the busy nature of beekeepers, it can be a challenge to get connected with others in the industry. The reception was a prime opportunity to network with key customers and partners, without the usual pressure of selling.
After narrowly escaping a snowstorm in Lake Tahoe, we enjoyed 3 sleepless flights with non-stop turbulence before arriving a few hours late to our final conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Empire State Honey Producers Association and Ontario Beekeepers Association joined forces for this conference, and they did a masterful job.
As you might expect, we were feeling a little groggy by the time we set up our table. Luckily, the event organizers knew how to satisfy such weary travelers; permanent coffee stations and a phenomenal lunch spread were perfect energy boosters to help us through the rest of our 48-hour day.
The food and coffee weren’t the only highlights to note here. What really struck me was the cooperation between American and Canadian beekeepers. It must’ve been quite a challenge to create a program that integrates content relevant to both American and Canadian beekeepers, but the organizers pulled it off flawlessly.
Certain compromises were necessary—for example, American vendors couldn’t take their wares across the border. Still, there was a good mix of American and Canadian vendors, and the attendees didn’t seem to mind.
During the season our to-do lists can get pretty overwhelming. It’s tough to find time to plan out your projects over the next few months with the mountain of tasks in front of you right now.
It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving week is almost upon us. After you’ve had your fill of mingling with the family and gobbling down leftover turkey sandwiches, this a great time of year to set aside a few hours to do some simple strategic goalsetting for the upcoming season.
1. Visualize long-term success
Ask yourself: what do I want my business to look like 1 year from now? What about 10 years from now? Where do I want my business to take me 30 years from now?
Success in business doesn’t come overnight, it often takes a lifetime of grinding towards milestone after milestone. It’s important to visualize what success means to you so you can start to break down your steps for getting there. Unless you know where you want your business to take you by the end of your career, it’s difficult to know which path you should take right now.
Start by identifying your long-term goals, then we'll break down each goal into bite-size pieces. Let’s say, in 30 years, you hope to:
2. Create smaller milestones
For each of your goals, set up a simple matrix to outline the smaller milestones you’ll need to reach over time in order to achieve your final goal. Here’s a quick example I made in Excel to help you get started:
At this point, you're probably thinking, "these milestones are nice to know, but I still don't know how I'm going to go about reaching them."
Luckily, you and I are on the same page. Let's talk about implementing your plan.
3. Implementation: identify your needs
For this step, let's use my sample 30-year goalsetting matrix as an example.
In 5 years, I want to hire a business manager to help grow the business. In order to attract a talented business manager, I'll need to offer this person:
Your challenge now is figuring out how to put yourself in a position to offer these things 5 years from now. What will you need?
Now you have a roadmap to hiring your business manager. Some of these tasks will be quite challenging to accomplish, like creating annual revenue growth. But others can be knocked out with little effort, like outsourcing your HR functions.
Review, re-evaluate, re-strategize
If you’re reaching your goals year after year with no trouble, you need to set more ambitious goals. If you haven’t been able to reach a single goal, maybe it’s time to scale back your plans.
Things change, new challenges emerge and new opportunities present themselves. It’s important to periodically adjust your goals so they’re always realistic and achievable.
No matter what challenges your business might run into next year, these three steps will help you make tough decisions on the spot when you don’t have time to explore all the options.
If your fancy automated uncapper breaks down halfway through a harvest or your business manager suddenly decides to switch careers, you’ll have a good idea whether or not your budget can take a 5-figure hit, and how much your long term goals might be set back.
At this point in the beekeeping season, you are likely spending time making sure your hives are in good shape heading into winter. Sometimes for me, winters just feel like a waiting game to see if my hives make it.
This post outlines some ways you can stay busy and keep your mind off wondering how the bees are doing.
Determine cause of deadouts
How many hives did you lose over the summer? What caused those losses? What steps can be taken to improve survival rate?
These are all important questions to ask at the end of a season. To improve in beekeeping, we need to evaluate our mistakes and figure out how those could be corrected. Sure, natural occurrences and uncontrollable factors are sometimes the cause, but identifying areas of improvement means better success in the future.
Review hive records
We all agree that it’s important to keep records on your hive management, but I never hear anyone talk about what to do with your records once the season’s over. Right now is a great time to organize your notes and look for some insights: what areas of hive management can I improve on?
If you don’t already, consider storing your records digitally so you can quickly refer back to past seasons’ data. Microsoft Excel is easy to learn and it can be a really powerful tool for learning from your records.
Visualize hive record data
If you’ve done a good job keeping your records organized, you can use Excel to create a “scorecard” to summarize the season. Boiling the entire year down to a few key statistics is a great way to evaluate your success and compare your results to past seasons. Your scorecard can be something as simple as this:
The more details you include, the better. If you know that most of your August dead outs came from one bee yard, you may want to move those hives to another site next spring.
If you know that 15 out of 17 July dead outs were caused by wax moth infestation, set a reminder to make some traps next June and find a place to store your empty supers where they’re safe from wax moths.
Evaluate your season
Lastly, see how well you reached your targets this season! Was your season successful all around? In need of improvement in certain areas?
Compare your scorecard with the goals you set at the beginning of the season; which ones you achieved and which ones fell short, and see if you are on track to meet your long term goals.
Check out Wyatt's post for more on this.
Accomplishing these tasks over the winter season will help you be more prepared leading into next year and closer to your long term goals!
Welcome to The Bee Word!
Brought to you by the leaders of The Bee Corp, the goal of this blog is to turn expert beekeepers into expert businesspeople, by helping readers overcome challenges uniquely faced by beekeeping business owners.
The Bee Word will offer resources, tools and ideas that you can apply to help make your business more efficient, organized and profitable. Also featured will be content covering major industry news, the latest in honeybee science and research, relevant public policy and economics, and expert spotlights
Our team has a combined 13 years of beekeeping experience and a diverse background of business skills and expertise:
We hope you find our posts useful and engaging. We're always open to feedback on how we can improve, so don't hesitate to reach out.
Hope you visit again soon,
-Ellie, Simon and Wyatt