Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: today’s beekeeping industry might as well be called the pollination service industry. With very few exceptions, beekeeping operations need pollination revenue to survive these days. Fortunately, there’s plenty of money to be made in pollination.
Yet it seems like nobody’s happy with the current model. Beekeepers are worried about introducing new stressors like fungicides and travel fatigue to their bees. Growers think they’re not always getting what they pay for. Who’s in the right?
What does it take to deliver pollination?
In short, delivering pollination is like orchestrating a symphony: it takes a lot of skill and experience to synchronize different moving pieces and create a harmony. Here are just a few of the many stresses beekeepers must endure to deliver pollination to growers:
What do growers want?
From our conversations with almond growers, their interests tend to be fairly consistent. Growers want reliability, consistency. Growers stick a seed in the ground, give it food, water and sunlight, then a crop is produced (I know this is a major oversimplification, but bear with me). Pretty straight-forward, right? There are clearly identified jobs to be done and growers know how to direct their workers to complete those jobs.
Bees are a different story. Bees are not a simple input. Growers can watch the bees fly, but they can’t supervise them or direct them. If a worker fails to do a job like apply fertilizer, it’s not hard to find out what went wrong, who to blame and how to fix the issue. If weak bees do a poor job pollinating a section of the orchard, the grower won’t find out in time, the person to blame has already been paid, and there is no fixing the issue until next season. As far as farm inputs go, pollination is something growers feel they have almost no control over.
Candor increases contract value
Bottom line is growers want to know they’re getting what they pay for. Growers can see through the tired claim beekeepers recycle year after year: “bees are dying, I need $5 more per hive”. Growers are not all that different from beekeepers: they want control of their livelihood, they don’t like surprises, they like to see proof.
Beekeepers should take notes from operations like Apis Hive from Colorado, who take an open-book approach by posting their pollination costs and prices online. Full transparency, no gimmicks, no surprises. These guys get it.
What’s a fair price for a pollination deal? It’s whatever value beekeepers can prove they’ve delivered. Beekeepers take on a lot of costs and risks to provide pollination, but at the end of the day, pollination is a service and the clients don’t always feel well-served. It’s the service provider's responsibility to show they’re delivering excellent service.