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Honey bees, specifically the European Honey Bee (apis mellifera), are often used in service of pollinating crops in large industrial monocultures. These bees also produce honey which is collected and sold for profit.

Is honey the main product or is it a byproduct? Does an apiary depend on selling honey in order to be viable as a business?

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For each individual beekeeper, it depends. The price of bee products (honey, pollen, etc.) change over time, and so does the price of pollination services that beekeepers provide.

But it seems like pollination currently produces more revenue overall, at least in North America.

Today, many beekeepers make at least half of their annual income not from selling honey, but rather from renting their hives to farmers to pollinate crops nationwide. (SciAm)

Honey

Each hive of bees can make 20-60 pounds of honey per year and beekeepers can sell it at wholesale for anywhere from $2/lb (low wholesale) to $6/lb (high retail), allowing for total revenue of $40-$360 per hive-year. At least one beekeeper managed $500 per hive-year. Beekeepers can increase their profits by selling beeswax, bee pollen, and propolis.

Pollination

The practice of migratory beekeeping (transporting hives in trucks) allows beekeepers to perform multiple engagements each year. Three engagements, each lasting a bit more than a month, is a reasonable estimate. Different agricultural crops fetch different prices, anywhere from $60-$160 per hive. So migratory beekeepers might bring in $450-$500/hive-year.

Anecdotes

  • The vice-president of the BC Honey Producers Assocation claims he can generate $1000/hive-year through retail honey sales and hive-splitting but only $100/hive-year for pollination services.
  • Almond growers in California may pay as much as $200/hive to bring in bees when the almond trees are flowering.

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