Beekeepers face a complex future

| Print |  Email
Articles - October 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
1010_Bees03
George Hansen, owner of the Foothills Honey Company, started beekeeping as a hobby 25 years ago. His company now does $2 million in annual revenue.

George Hansen has had just a few hours sleep after spending the night moving his bees to a pollination job in Madras, but he is awake, freshly shaved and ready to talk about bees. The 61-year-old Hansen is by most accounts one of the superior beekeepers in Oregon, though he comes to it differently than most.

Unlike many beekeepers who come from a long family line of them, Hansen is the son of a government bureaucrat who started out teaching Russian 25 years ago to immigrant school kids in Woodburn. (Russians now comprise his bee crew.) He kept bees as a hobby and eventually stopped teaching to try to make money from his hives. Today, his Foothills Honey Company in Colton is a $2 million operation with 5,000 hives. He makes 75% of his revenue off pollination services; 20% from honey; and about 5% from bee sales and wax, a fairly typical breakdown for beekeepers. Sixty years ago, most just produced honey.

Modern farming and other factors have decimated wild pollinators, so growers now depend on beekeepers like Hansen. “They call us, give us 48 hours to pollinate before they spray [pesticides] and then we leave.”

His bee loss is extremely low, only 5% to 10% per year, while some beekeepers are reporting losses of up to 30% to 40%. His taciturn response to that is to wonder if it isn’t just bad colony management.

“We ask a lot of hard work of bees and put a lot of stress on them,” says Hansen. “If I did nothing we would lose 30% or more. That’s what we don’t allow.”

Fellow beekeeper Dirk Olsen says it straight out.

“A lot of beekeepers blame CCD for bee losses when it’s poor management,” says Olsen, who owns Olsen Honey Farms in Albany. Olsen began keeping bees in 1971 when he was 17 as a way to put himself through OSU. His family-owned operation is now a $1 million-plus business and manages up to 6,000 hives. “We’ve got mites and they’ve become resistant. They can get out of control real quick. Beekeepers will blame that on CCD,” he says.

Large beekeepers still in the game at this point know what they are doing. Like farming everywhere, success means good stewardship, an unwavering dedication to your animal (or insect). The best beekeeper spends the money to address the myriad assaults on the bee, with nutrition being among the most important ways to keep a bee healthy. “We are very strong on nutrition,” says Jan Lohman of Vazza Farms in Hermiston, which keeps 2,200 hives. “That’s the up and coming thing in the bee industry.”

Nutrition is a big focus for OSU researcher Ramesh Sagili, who replaced longtime OSU bee expert Michael Burgett, who retired in 2002. Sagili is also studying the bee’s immune system, treatment thresholds and the ever-present mite. In a survey of hives this spring, he found that 22 Oregon commercial beekeepers who managed 37,000 hives reported average losses of 25%; nationally the rate was 34% for total bee loss over this past winter.

Burgett, now an OSU emeritus professor, is a devil’s advocate about CCD and doesn’t see the losses as catastrophic. “The health of the bees is great,” he says.

In his 2008-2009 study on bee mortality, he found losses in the region were “above average but not by much. Most of the beekeepers made up their losses. So there are now more hives in Oregon than before CCD.” This is not to diminish the seriousness of bee loss and finding ways to prevent it, but the important thing that has resulted, says Burgett, is more money for research.

“Now we’ve discovered new pathogens. We’ve found a new virus, and a new nosema [parasite],” he says. “Increased funding is allowing us to find out more about what makes bees sick.”

Hansen puts great effort into keeping his bees healthy. His approach demands his unwavering dedication (he rarely takes a day off) and it is expensive: “I do not really allow the bees to fail,” says Hansen. “We are giving bees a whole lot more than we used to give them. We don’t depend on nature giving them anything anymore.”



 

Comments   

 
Portland Bizzy Bee
0 #1 Native PollinatorsPortland Bizzy Bee 2010-09-30 15:55:49
Nicely written article Robin. Please consider writing a postscript in the future that provides some ink to the growing domestication and use of native pollinators (e.g. orchard mason bees, horn faced bees, and leaf cutter bees).

For the past several years, some entomologists have been working with almond growers in California on the use of orchard mason bees. I know this, because that's where the bulk of my surplus bees have gone over the past few years.

Successful native bee management requires a fundamentally different approach to agriculture. Monoculture crops don't co-exist well with native pollinators. However, there are cases of growers who are creating insectaries and planting diverse crops that make their farms more hospitable to native pollinators.

A couple of entreprenueurs in Washington are working on plans to develop large scale orchard mason bee businesses. Xerces Society, which is based in Portland, is the national leader in native pollinator research
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Transportation Fairness Alliance holds demonstration in Pioneer Square

The Latest
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
IMG 3367BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Portland's cab companies urged city hall for consideration as officials weigh new rules for Uber and other ridesharing companies.


Read more...

Umbrella Revolution

March 2015
Monday, February 23, 2015

Yeah, we know: Oregonians are way too cool for umbrellas. But today’s stylish, high-tech models will soften the resistance of the most rain hardened.


Read more...

The Carbon Calculus

February 2015
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Carbon pricing is gaining momentum in Oregon, sparking concern for energy-intensive businesses — but also opportunity to expand a homespun green economy.


Read more...

Money Talks

March 2015
Saturday, February 21, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Will community banks survive the digital age? Three CEOs peer into banking's crystal ball.


Read more...

Closing the Gap: The two Oregons and the way forward

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

"Nostalgia is not an economic strategy."


Read more...

Game On

March 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

The big news at Oregon Business is we’re getting a ping pong table. After reading the descriptions of the 2015 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon, a disproportionate number of which feature table tennis in the office, I decided it was time to bring our own workplace into the 21st century. It was a tough call, but it’s lonely at the top, and someone has to make the hard decisions.


Read more...

Grassroots movement pursues carbon bills

News
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
eventthumbBY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

A partnership of a grassroots environmental organization and a youth group is striving to build community and business support for carbon price legislation.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS