South Dakota bee operation gets more income from pollination

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Farm Forum

BRUCE, S.D. (AP) — It might be true that you can catch more flies with honey, but an eastern South Dakota beekeeper’s operation makes more profit off of pollinating crops than producing the sweet substance.

Bruce-based Adee Honey gets more than half of its income from pollinating crops in South Dakota and elsewhere, the Tri-State Neighbor (http://bit.ly/1Q643TJ ) reported. During the winter, the bees are used to pollinate almonds in Southern California and apples in Washington state.

Bret Adee, who runs the pollination side of the operation, serves on the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, reviewing studies coming out of universities and company research nationwide. He maintains a hefty file of papers and clippings showings the benefits of bees.

Much of Adee’s collection backs up his belief that pollination is the best way to improve crop yields.

“People think, ‘Oh, bees — they make your honey.’ They also make your crop,” he said.

A paper published in Brazil about 10 years ago shows that bees significantly increase yields for soybeans, even though the crop doesn’t need bees to pollinate. Seed numbers were 50 percent higher where the bees pollinated the soybeans, but the seeds weren’t as heavy, according to the study.

Similar studies in Canada and Australia also have found that seeds can boost the yield of crops.

In North Dakota and Nebraska, trials have shown that bees increased seed production for sunflowers, and that head moss was less of a threat.

“It can be a win, win, win,” Adee said.

Adee is the third generation in his family to work with honey. The business began in Kansas with six colonies of bees, but his father, Richard Adee, moved it to South Dakota after learning that the state with its abundant sweet clover was a good place to raise bees. His business now includes his two sons, his daughter and 80 employees.

South Dakota is the country’s second producer of honey, behind North Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2012, South Dakota produced 17 million pounds of honey.