Bee Suppliers: How the Honeybee and Queen Supply Industry is Structured
Every spring beekeepers buy thousands of queens, packages and nucs to start new colonies or to replace dead ones. An entire industry of bee suppliers, composed of producers, resellers, and breeders, has developed to meet the demand for honeybees.
Where Do The Bees Come From?
Package bee production in the United States is dominated by a handful of large, specialized producers located in the south. Gardner’s Apiaries Spell Bee LLC, Wilbanks Apiaries, Hardeman Apiaries, Rossman Apiaries, BeeWeaver Apiaries, and C.F. Koehnen and Son are some of the largest. The first four are all located in southern Georgia where there is an early and reliable spring nectar flow, excellent for the production of honeybees. BeeWeaver is located in Texas and enjoys the distinction of offering treatment free bees. C.F. Koehnen and Son are in California. While there are certainly other package producers, the above mentioned apiaries dominate a large part of the market.
It is possible to pick-up your packages from the original producer or even have them mailed to you, but most beekeepers will purchase and receive their packages from a reseller. A reseller orders a large number of packages, marks them up and resells them. Part of the service that a reseller provides is hauling the packages from the producer to the beekeeper and assuming the risk of loss. Hauling honeybees is not without risk and losing entire loads to overheating or other problems is not unheard of. Resellers earn their money. Sometimes beekeeping clubs will pool the orders of their members and send a truck to pick up the packages.
Nuc production in the United States is more diversified than package production. It’s not uncommon to find beekeepers who, in addition to their regular beekeeping operations, offer anywhere from a few individual nucs to a few hundred for sale each spring. Nucs are not generally shipped through the mail, although I have heard of it being done. Most nucs are produced and marketed locally. Jester Bee Company in Florida and BeeWeaver Apiaries are two large nuc producers that distribute their nucs to pickup points around the country. Your local bee club is often a great resource to use to find nucs.
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Queen Breeders and Queen Producers
Those who raise queen bees can be divided into two groups: queen breeders and queen producers. Some operations function as both breeders and producers.
A queen breeder focuses primarily on raising high quality queens with superior genetics that are sold as breeding stock to queen producers. Queen breeders practice rigorous stock selection, and often use closed population breeding programs and artificial insemination to produce queens of known genetic origin. The queens are then sold to queen producers who use them to produce large numbers of queens for sale to the public. Joe Latshaw, Sue Colby, Glenn Apiaries, and BeeWeaver Apiaries are all well known queen breeders.
Often having obtained their breeding stock from a queen breeder, queen producers focus on the production of large numbers of open mated queens. These queens are then sold to beekeepers for use in their own colonies. The demand for queens early in the spring means that all the large U.S. queen producers are located in the southern half of the country or Hawaii. Kona Queen, in Hawaii, and Miksa Honey Farms, in Florida, are well known queen producers as are all the aforementioned package producers.
Parallels to the Cattle Industry
Those familiar with the cattle industry will see many similarities with the queen bee industry. In the cattle industry, cattle breeders sell purebred breeding stock to commercial cow-calf outfits, which in turn produce calves that will be sold to feedlots and raised to produce meat. In the queen bee industry, queen breeders sell breeding stock to queen producers who then use that breeding stock to raise queens to sell to beekeepers to use in colonies to produce honey.
In closing, let me say that my mention of specific bee suppliers should not be viewed as an endorsement. These are simply large and established operations, and I use them to illustrate how the bee supply industry works. There are many other bee suppliers offering an excellent product. Check with your local bee club to learn of their experiences with different suppliers and to obtain recommendations.
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