Honey bee pollination services are worth between $250 million and $320 million annually, USDA's Economic Research Service said in a new report, which also valued the honey production market at about $330 million per year.
There is limited data on the transportation routes of commercial honey bees, according to the report. USDA ERS used a National Agricultural Statistics Service survey of beekeepers to understand the seasonal movement of honey bees, quantify the pollination and honey production markets, and study colony loss.
About 30% of all commercial honey bee colonies are taken to the Northern Plains for the summer so they can forage to produce honey.
The flowering grasslands of the Northern Great Plains, including Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, offer the bees a concentration of Conservation Reserve Program acreage, which is optimal for bees due to its high-quality forage and low risk of chemical exposure.
Before the winter months, there is a large influx of honey bees into California and other warmer southern states.
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Pollinator season begins in February, when more than 68% of all commercial honey bee colonies move to pollinate almonds in California.
Almond producers accounted for 80% of demand for pollination services in 2017, while the apple and blueberry industries each purchased around $10 million of pollination services. Other crops pollinated by honey bees include melons, cherries, cranberries, peaches and pumpkins.
The report says long-distance transportation, mites, and pesticide exposure are associated with colony stress and loss. Using data from 2017 and 2018, ERS estimated commercial honey bees travel an average of 1,153 miles. While around 30% of colonies were lost due to Varroa mites in the winters of both 2017-18 and 2018-19, the colonies have since started to recover due to intensified colony management, including splitting hives and purchasing new queens.
With limited data, the report indicated that demand for honey bee pollination services is growing, meaning an increasing number of honey bees will travel these long distances.
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