Wisconsin sees honey production drop in 2018

MADISON — Federal data shows Wisconsin's honey production fell by nearly a quarter last year, and local producers say the weather was a major factor.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service found that the state produced 2.3 million pounds of honey in 2018, which is 23% less than 2017.

Kent Pegorsch, president of the Wisconsin Honey Producers Association, said the main reason that honey production dropped was because of the weather, particularly heavy snow that blanketed parts of the state in April of last year.

Pegorsch told Wisconsin Public Radio that the spring snowstorm set back planting.

"And then when we did get weather, we either got too warm of weather and not enough rain or too cool of weather and too much rain," said Pegorsch, who also owns the bee farm Dancing Bear Apiary in Waupaca.

He said the rain washes the nectar out of flowers, which delays how long it takes for the buildup to accumulate for bees to collect it.

Pegorsch also pointed to the agricultural industry's increased pesticide use and shift to larger fields with fewer fence rows.

"These fence rows in years past were important areas for honeybees and pollinators to gain nectar and pollen, their food sources, throughout the year," Pegorsch said. He added that the honey season is "more compressed into a very short period in the summer" when the crops are there, but there isn't enough food for the bees in the spring and fall.

He also noted that parasitic mites have been infesting hives and killing bees.

Pegorsch said beekeepers have raised concerns about the honey industry's profitability.

"We're forced to spend a lot more time managing our honeybees now than we were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago," he said. "We have to spend a lot of time with each colony to make sure that it's in optimal health."