Despite harsh winter, WI honey producers having luck with hives

DUVALL, Wis. (WITI) -- The nation's honeybee population has been struggling for years. Production was down one percent in 2012 nationwide -- but in Wisconsin, it was up 12% in 2012. However, the honeybee has felt the sting of this harsh winter.

The problem is serious enough that Midwestern farmers will be able to share $3 million from the USDA to re-seed pastures -- something that is appealing to both bees and livestock.

While attending school in Georgia, Steve Marcelle's track and field coach sparked his interest in beekeeping.

"I'm pretty sure he just wanted free labor, so he invited me out all the time to learn about the bees. I pretty much learned it and fell in love with it," Steve Marcelle said.

Marcelle's affection also stung his brother Chris and buddy Codi McIntyre. But the trio has a different obstacle to deal with in Wisconsin.
"The winter has been really cold, so they've been burning through their honey really fast," Steve Marcelle said.

Last winter, while still perfecting its craft, the group lost 85% of its hives. This winter, only 23%, keeping 34 of 44 hives alive.

"You treat it kind of like a small child, you know. You do everything you can for it no matter what, because it's not like they can do anything for themselves right now in winter," McIntyre said.

The guys check on their hives once a week. On days it's too cold to look inside, so they listen -- hoping they'll hear buzzing.

"Temperatures approach 90 degrees still. That's where the queen is and they've got to keep the queen alive to make it through the winter," Chris Marcelle said.

That's important because a dead hive can cost hundreds of dollars to replace. It also slows down the ability to sell honey.

"It can get costly, that's for sure," Steve Marcelle said.

Keeping the bees buzzing also helps neighboring farmers.

"We have pear trees that we've had on the farm forever, and they stopped blooming 10 years ago and the last two years, they're loaded with pears again," McIntyre said.

The benefits of the bees are why the "Big Honey" producers are optimistic farmers will jump at the USDA's new aid offer.

"I'm going to tell everyone I know. Why wouldn't you tell them about a good break like that -- that's going to help both of us out?" McIntyre said.

It could end up being the shot in the arm these guys need to turn this part-time love, into a full-time gig.

"It's just a great hobby to be into honestly. It's sweet," McIntyre said.

For now, the "Big Honey" product is mostly sold online.

This group of producers hopes to make it a full-time operation in a few years.

Wisconsin is typically the eighth-largest honey producer, with North Dakota being far-and-away number one.

CLICK HERE to visit "Big Honey's" Facebook page and learn more about this product.