Beekeepers have been making their annual rounds pollinating crops for Texas producers, according to Texas Apiary Inspection Service chief inspector Mark Dykes, College Station.
Dykes said beekeepers typically trek to California in early February for lucrative almond pollination jobs before returning to Texas to pollinate spring crops and build up their hives.
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service estimates there are 85,000 beehives in Texas and 120,000 migratory hives that pass through the state.
“Every operation is unique,” Dykes said. “Some do pollination. Some do a combination of honey production and pollination and others do just honey production. Some just sell queens and beehives. There is a little bit of everything.”
Beekeepers take hives to central Texas to pollinate apple orchards and watermelon fields. Some take their bees to cotton fields around the state, which is good for honey production. Others travel to southeast Texas where abundant Chinese tallow trees provide bees forage for honey flow, Dykes said.
Some beekeepers even head to the Dakotas for the spring honey flow. Prior to leaving for the Dakotas many of the beekeepers split their hives to increase hive numbers. Beekeepers split them and add a queen to create a new hive, he said.
Pollinating fields can be good business because of the demand from crop producers, Dykes said. But hive fees vary.
Beekeepers can charge up to $190 per hive in the California almond fields, while they might receive up to $70 per hive to pollinate watermelon fields in Texas, he said.
Dykes said more and more small-scale beekeepers are popping up around the state since the Texas legislature provided an agriculture exemption for beekeeping on small acreage. The influx of interest has created a market for medium- and large-scale bee operations to produce hives to sell.
Small-scale beekeepers may have hives for the tax exemption, as a hobby or to pollinate gardens and produce honey, Dykes said.
“There’s a little bit of everything,” he said. “It’s a very busy time of the year for bees and beekeepers.”
The Texas Apiary Inspection Service operates under Texas A&M AgriLife Research.