Ah, fall. The leaves are changing, the weather’s getting chilly, and the bees are wrapping up their last few jobs before the winter.
Back in the office though, beekeepers and growers aren’t slowing down. Yep, it’s that lovely time of year when everyone starts to worry about almond pollination.
Pollination prep done right
For those of us who are sending bees to California for the first time, there are a lot of things to consider before loading the trucks. First, I strongly recommend you review Joe Traynor’s articles on almond pollination. Joe’s been brokering hives for decades, and he’s the best resource out there on the topic.
When it comes down to negotiating price, now is the best time to reach an agreement with your grower. Don’t wait until it’s time to cut a check to haggle on price.
If you agree to do an inspection, figure out who’s paying for it, who’s actually doing it (either a state inspector or a private company), and when you want it done (early season hive strength results will be different from late season).
Maximize value for your grower
Keep in mind that while almond pollination is a pivotal time of year for you, your grower has a different perspective. They don’t care so much about the details—they just want the job done right and done on time. These are the top items on your grower’s mind:
Communication is absolutely essential. You need to tell your grower ASAP if you’re concerned about meeting one or more of those above items. That said, you don’t want to burden your grower with issues that aren’t related to the above items. If your trucker falls through or you choose a different overwinter yard, these are problems you should resolve on your own.
Over-communication can cause growers to think you’re too high-maintenance to work with. The name of the game is long-term value. Your goal should be to show that you’re trustworthy and capable—this is how you secure contracts year over year.
On that note, you should plan to check in with your grower at least once a month to let them know how the bees are looking. Are you still on track to hit your quota? Do you still expect to hit the 8-frame average? Is there any reason they should worry about on-time delivery? Lining up more bees at the last second is a major headache, so help your grower out by giving them a clear idea of what to expect.
Almond pollination is not an easy job, otherwise it wouldn’t pay so well. The best way to avoid conflict is to set clear expectations and communicate well.
Finally, give your grower a few ways to get in touch. Repeatedly getting sent to voicemail is the fastest way to lose your contract next year.
One of the most enjoyable things about operating our hives is harvesting honey every season. Even though we're a few months away from pulling honey, it's always good to make sure you're still in compliance with the latest labeling laws.
When we first bottled our honey it was very confusing to navigate federal and state standards to ensure we were labeling our honey right. To make this easier for beekeepers, we've compiled all the state laws on honey labeling into one place, and created the interactive map below to link to the government documents.
Embedd code for map:
Not every state has specific laws on honey labeling, so they defer to the guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Beekeepers in all states still need to adhere to these standards in addition to their state regulations:
There are also several suggestions for honey labels. These aren't required, but they're good ideas to help you become the brand of choice for your customers.
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.