CROP INSURANCE NOT FAR-FETCHED FOR BEEKEEPERS
Danny Weaver's family name has been synonymous with the honey bee business in Grimes County, Texas, since his great-grandparents received 10 hives as a wedding present in 1888. Weaver, in the business with his father Binford Weaver, has a question, "Will my generation benefit from a crop insurance program?"
Nov 7, 2000 - Danny Weaver has a mission: To develop a honey bee resistant to exotic pests that have invaded the United States during the past 16 years. "For beekeepers who take pride in the purity of their product, I think the ultimate answer to the exotic pest problem in the honeybee industry will be found in breeding queens with a natural resistance," Weaver said. The unwelcome imports--varroa and tracheal mites and more recently small hive beetles–threaten extinction for natural hives and present an ongoing menace to domestic honeybees.
Though resistance to these pests is the main breeding goal of the family's Bee Weaver Apiaries, Weaver also selects queen breeding stock for traditional desirable traits--demonstrated honey production and gentleness. Introducing select queens is the best way to maintain high productivity and healthy hives and can limit the spread of the Africanized honey bee. Bee Weaver Apiaries works mostly with the All-American and Buckfast queen bees and has developed resistance to tracheal mites from their own stock. Through their partnership with USDA's Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics and Physiology Laboratory, in Baton Rouge, LA, they hope to have an inside track on adding the mite resistant traits of a strain developed by John Harbo to their own mite-resistant stock.
From their base 5000 hives (or colonies), the Weavers extract and sell more than 7500 "packages" a year. The package, or artificial swarm, consists of 3 pounds of bees and 1 queen, which can quadruple in number to 40,000 at peak strength. Add sales of 35,000 queens and you begin to comprehend the scale of the labor-intensive breeding process. Besides the sale of honey bees, the business annually produces 150 pounds of honey per hive and provides pollination services for farmers with fruit and vegetable crops. (Nationally, honey bees pollinate more than 90 food, fiber, and seed crops valued at $14.6 billion annually.)
The Weavers literally go to great lengths to make their product flavorful. Come late May and early June, half the hives will be trucking their way to their cooler North Dakota summer homes, bordering fields of clover and alfalfa that lend desirable flavors to their golden nectar. Come September, they are carefully transported back to their Texas winter sanctuary.
The honey bee industry has been stung by low commodity prices like the rest of the farming community, and beekeepers would like to be able to buy crop insurance that would protect their investment in their bees and honey production. The coverage that the beekeeping business needs wasn't likely to happen before passage of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000. However, the new Act provides authorization for pilot livestock programs and the expansion of specialty crop programs.
Weaver's degree in biology from Rice University undoubtedly contributed to his expertise in handling the technical end of the family business, but in today's competitive market, good financial and marketing practices can provide the edge that means survival. Until prices rebound and crop insurance becomes available, Weaver describes their business strategy, "As long as we can, we will continue to minimize costs where possible and diversify into new markets."