My thanks are due to all those who contributed data to this survey. These helped me get a much better picture of honey production and sales than I could have otherwise obtained. At the time of writing, replies have been received from 28 beekeepers, some of whom indicated that their replies were themselves derived from information from several other beekeepers.
In analysing the replies, I have used all data received, except where it clearly did not relate to the NBU South East Region. Where beekeepers gave two or more figures for a single question (e.g. a range of potential prices), I took a simple average of these.
In the analysis below, I have made
comparison with results from a similar survey last year asking the same
questions about the 1999 season. The 1999 survey received fewer replies,
so the results may be less statistically robust.
Bulk Honey (Flower):
4 replies ranging from £1.00/lb
2000 average=£1.13/lb (1999 = £0.99/lb)
Wholesale Honey (Flower):
12 replies ranging from £1.20/lb
2000 average = £1.61/lb (1999 = £1.68/lb)
Direct Sales (Flower):
26 replies ranging from £1.20/lb
2000 average £2.20/lb (1999=£1.92/lb)
No replies were received, which reflects the small amount of heather honey produced in the South East.
9 replies were received ranging from
£2.50/lb to £7.50/lb.
2000 average = £4.27/lb (1999= £4.03/lb)
Beekeepers' comments referred to adverse weather conditions; excessive swarming; poor yield from oil seed rape; poor quality of honey; disease problems; and uncertainty about price.
The year 2000 was not an easy beekeeping year. In particular periods of cold and wet weather during the spring and summer interfered with foraging during the flowering of some key plant species. In addition, widespread swarming meant that many colonies were severely weakened when good weather did come.
The experience of bee inspectors working in the field was that while some beekeepers had little or no surplus honey, others had done very well indeed - and a few reported their best ever year. This probably reflects situations where colonies remained strong - or built up again after swarming - and exploited locally abundant nectar sources. Certainly many beekeepers reported unusual late flows apparently from minor sources that were able to yield particularly well due to the abundance of ground-water. This pattern is reflected in the results of this survey, where the average yield is similar to 1999 at a quite respectable 51lbs per colony. However, there is an eight fold difference between the best and worst reported average yield, compared with a two fold difference in 1999.
As far as the sale of honey is concerned, the most common method still seems to be direct sales to customers - nearly everyone provided a figure for this. However, there is no consensus about price, with nearly a three-fold difference between the lowest and highest prices provided. Using figures from this survey, an average crop of honey per colony was worth £114 when sold direct at average prices (not taking cost of packaging into account).
About half the replies indicated selling honey wholesale to a retailer. Although a wide range of prices were provided, there was closer agreement than for direct sales, with less than a two-fold difference between lowest and highest prices. At average wholesale price, an average crop of honey was worth £84 (not taking cost of packaging into account).
Few beekeepers indicated they sold honey in bulk. Those who did agreed fairly closely about price. At the average bulk price provided, an average crop of honey was worth about £59.
About a third of replies indicated selling cut-comb honey. No distinction was made in the questionnaire between wholesale and direct-sale of cut-comb. However, it thought that nearly all cut-comb is sold direct. There was a three-fold variation between the minimum and maximum prices provided. The average price of cut comb honey was approaching twice that for extracted honey sold direct.
Overall, these figures suggest that the market for honey is reasonably strong. This is as we might expect, since there seems little doubt that the production of honey in the South East has dropped significantly over the past five years or so, following the loss of colonies due to varroa. Few beekeepers seem to have the substantial honey stockpiles that were common a few years ago and most beekeepers seem to be able to readily sell whatever they produce. However, it is interesting that there is such a wide difference in prices charged - especially for direct sales. Some beekeepers seem to have found a market for their honey that allows them to charge a substantial premium.
South East Regional Bee Inspector
CSL National Bee Unit
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