An email or a business plan….

Here’s an obfuscated email I received today. Thought I’d share it and my response:

Hi “BeeDude”,
I was at the Women in Ag convention and listened to you talk about bees. I believe you mentioned that from a business stand point, pollination is the way to go. I was wondering if you had more insight into this. Is it difficult to get into the pollination business? Is it lucrative? Where would one start? I would like to get into beekeeping, preferably as a business, but possibly just a hobby.

Thank you for your time and insight,
“Farm Lady”

Good morning “Farm Lady”!

Way cool on your interest in beekeeping and pollination services!

Personally, I’m a hobbyist “back yard” keeper. I did work with a small, commercial outfit about 40 years ago when I was in High School – but things have changed, a LOT! Don’t get me wrong, you can run a business selling hive products: honey, wax and propolis. There isn’t huge market – these days – but there is one. Depending on your goals, it may be a fit for you. Many such, ‘not so big’ keepers are called “Sideliners”. Working their bees and operating self-sustaining yard. Not the kind of thing many make a lot of money at, but depending on how you do things, your goals, maybe a fit.

I’d suggest, this spring, visiting your local Farmers Markets – find the beekeepers selling there, talk to them, find a few that are also doing wholesale sales. Into stores, boutiques and the like. They’d be much better at being able to give you a ‘feel’ for current market conditions.

As to pollination services – well you’ve got to keep bees, first. This will take planning, money and time. You’ll likely need several dozen to hundreds of hives to make things profitable on your own. You’ll have a mountain of regulatory hoops to jump through to get them to the farmers and across state lines. Then loading, transport, drop off, maintenance and pickup. You can likely find brokers or agents (cuts profit) to make initial contact with farmers in the ad section of either of the larger bee magazines (American Bee Journal and Bee Culture). It’s a convoluted game.

Anticipate a large investment, initially, just to get enough livestock to become self-supporting. Most start with buying packages. This year they’re running about $150 for 3lbs. Toss in wooden ware, frames – figure along the lines of $300 to $500 each hive to get it started. Depending on how you do it, can be more or less. Likely one of the tougher resources to obtain will be yards. Places with good forage to grow your colonies. The more colonies you have, the better your earning options. Grow your colonies – make splits – build your yards.

Learn your state’s Apiology laws. Easy enough, but required.

As a smaller outfit, you may be able to find a local, larger keeper already doing pollination services and throw in with them for haulage and sites. Special if it’s been a rough winter, they may be looking for a few dozen hives to fill in their contracts. That’d be a more economical way to get started. Let them take their cut – and load your bees on their trucks. Watch and learn. Negotiate.

One other opportunity to include would be supplying hobby keepers with bees. Package, Nucleus colony (Nuc) and queen production. There may actually be more money available in that market. Packages at $150 each, Nucs are around $200 this year and I’ve seen good queens sell for $25 to $80 each. Learn how to produce queens, develop good pedigree, a smaller outfit can generate dozens to hundreds of queens each month of the season.

And then grow. It’s a tough business that involves a lot of work for small gains at the beginning. After a few years, the returns can get better. And, of course, losses along the way are to be expected. Transportation stresses colonies and typical losses are about %30. Overwinter – special in Wyoming – is tough. Again, about %30 average losses. Toss in Varroa mite, pesticides, diseases and yea – vandalism, it can be a bit of an uphill slog.

Thing to do first? Learn beekeeping. Regardless of what you do, you’ll have to have that basic down solid. Keep a couple (dozen?) hives for a season or three. Know what it takes to take care of them. Then see how far you can run with it. Good luck to ya!

You’re on the cusp of being too late to start this year. You still can! The most common route of getting started by buying packages – well – several sellers are already sold out this year and they’re going fast. One place I’d still suggest would be “Big Honey” in “Smalltown”. If you want to get started this year with packages – call them very soon. Or consider Nucs – they are available later in the season and cost more, but success rates for new keepers are better.

Explore your options and dive in! If you’re in town – be happy to talk more.

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