The bee buzz about the Beehive State looks bad in this study

Bees crawl through a beehive in Santaquin on Jan. 12, 2016. A study published last week by the company Lawn Love ranked Utah the second-worst state for beekeeping in the country.

Bees crawl through a beehive in Santaquin on Jan. 12, 2016. A study published last week by the company Lawn Love ranked Utah the second-worst state for beekeeping in the country. (Steve Breinholt)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The beehive has been a symbol synonymous with Utah's community since the arrival of pioneers in the late 1840s.

While Utah didn't officially adopt the beehive as its state emblem until 1959, the beehive first appeared in what was then Deseret all the way back in 1848, according to Utah History Encyclopedia. This design also appeared on the original state seal, designed when Utah became a state in 1896, and this history helped define Utah as the Beehive State.

Though Utah's use of the beehive is largely symbolic of the community's industrial spirit, the Beehive State is still home to over 1,000 native bee species.

So it might be surprising to find that one company finds Utah one of the worst for beekeeping, as the study cites below-average honey yields per colony, average prices of honey and even the number of farmers markets that offer honey.

The study released last week by the lawn care company Lawn Love offers a window into the best and worst places for beekeeping, said Sharon Sullivan, Lawn Love's managing editor. The company also released its study to coincide with National Pollinator Week, which began on Monday.

The week is meant to bring awareness to the importance of pollinators, which help produce three-fourths of all the flowering plants on the planet and over one-third of the global food crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These include bats, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, and of course, bees.

The week was created over a decade ago to bring awareness to what can be done to protect pollinators, which are dying off as a result of habitat loss, disease and other causes, including contaminants like pesticides. The growing interest in all of these subjects, including beekeeping itself, inspired the study, Sullivan explained.

"Beekeeping is a timely topic that our audience cares about," she told KSL.com. "(We) wanted to kind of spread the word of how states contribute to the national health of the beekeeping industry. ... I think more people are aware of the changes with not having native plants and the use of pesticides that they're trying to make sure that the bee colonies don't disappear."

Why Utah fared poorly

Lawn Love's rankings are based on over a dozen data points from eight organization or government sources, including the National Honey Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The data ranges from the number of honey-producing colonies and honey yield per colony — which carry most of the rankings' weight — all the way to the number of beekeepers associations and apiculture classes, which carry some but less weight.

The metrics represent a mixture of amateur to industrial-level beekeeping statistics, policies and salaries, Sullivan added.

In Utah's case, it placed 36th in honey yield per colony, 35th in the average price of honey per pound and 34th in the number of farmers markets that offer honey. It also ranked 27th in the number of beekeepers associations available in the state.

"Even though Utah ranked really well in the number of honey-producing colonies, the actual honey yield per colony and total honey production was actually on a lower side," Sullivan. "Also, the average colony loss in 2021 was just over 70%, and that affects, obviously, the production. While other (states) were producing over 20,000 pounds (of honey) in the year, Utah was just producing over a thousand."

She added that the average salary for a beekeeper in Utah was about $32,000, approximately $8,000 below the national average.

Only Nebraska fared worse overall in the study; however, some of Utah's neighbors, Arizona and Wyoming, also placed in the bottom five. California led the nation, followed by New York, North Dakota, Florida and Texas.

Study limitations

One major caveat to Utah's ranking is the study excludes 10 states: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. This is because there wasn't enough Department of Agriculture data to include them or the District of Columbia, according to the study.

Second, the study is based on data collected from 2021 and there could be fluctuations in the marketplace or the climate. The study also doesn't really go into detail about causes that result in the rankings; Sullivan said it's possible that the ongoing Western drought and hotter temperatures could explain why Utah, Arizona and Wyoming placed in the bottom-five for beekeeping.

"(Climate is) one thing that we did not factor in, but that probably does not help with your yield," she said. "Obviously you have a lot of producing colonies but it's just the yield that's coming out of them. We didn't quite pick apart what's causing that, but the weather and drought could definitely be a factor."

Company executives are considering replicating their report in the future, which could help answer the limitations in the first report.

Supporting the bees

Since beekeeping is growing in popularity, the Lawn Love report concluded with advice from a panel of experts across the country. They agree that newcomers should start with education, such as joining a local beekeepers association, signing up for a beekeeping class or learning about the biology of bees.

Priyadarshini Chakrabarti Basu, an assistant professor of pollinator health and apiculture at Oregon State University, said it's also helpful for people to "stay up-to-date with current research and beekeeping practices."

"Beekeeping is a very satisfying hobby and a very rewarding profession. It takes a lot of patience and hard work to keep our colonies healthy and overwinter successfully," she adds.

The experts also agree people don't have to go into beekeeping to help struggling bee species. They advise that people reduce their use of pesticides, including herbicides, and start growing native plants, too.

They also reiterate that bees are important to the health of the plant and the global food supply.

"Plant pollination is crucial," Basu said. "Supporting a diverse group of bee species can help support diverse plant species. In addition, keeping a hive can also be your source of honey and wax."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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