‘Just like any other livestock’: Drought’s effect on beekeeping in South Dakota

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Drought has taken a toll across the state of South Dakota. From corn and wheat to cattle, producers have made been put in a tough spot while keeping a hopeful eye on the sky. Another group that has been watching for rain is beekeepers.

Bret Adee is the owner of Adee Honey Farms, based in Bruce, S.D. He told KELOLAND News over the phone that drought is a real problem for honey producers. Just like any other livestock, he says bees need moisture to produce.

While the company is headquartered in Bruce, their website also lists an operation in Roscoe, S.D., which is currently listed on the drought monitor as being under extreme drought.

“You’ve got to have green plants,” said Adee. Pollen and nectar are essential for honey production, and the drought has resulted in a difficult season so far. “The plants look okay,” he says “but they aren’t producing nectar.”

Adee says that he hopes they can get about three inches of rain by the end of August. “Very stressed plants put out lots of nectar after rain,” he says. This is because the plants go into survival mode, according to Adee, putting available energy into producing seed, pollen and nectar rather than into growing larger. Adee says even with the way the season has gone so far, a decent amount of rain could allow them to salvage a good if not great season.

The main crops in the region that provide nectar, according to Adee, are clover, soy beans, alfalfa and sunflowers. He says that if you can smell the plants from the road, it’s a good sign that they’ve gotten moisture and are producing nectar.

As for the bees themselves, Adee says the drought can take a toll on them too. The bees go dormant, he says. They put their resources toward surviving, producing fewer larvae and focusing on maintaining their population rather than growing. In the absence of nectar to gather, Adee says the bees will focus on securing water resources.

Adee says that the farm makes effort to find the bees forage — places they can gather nectar — in these conditions, and that they have even resorted at one point to giving them sugar water to keep them sustained, but doing so is both time consuming and expensive.

Were the drought to become a persistent yearly problem, Adee says beekeepers would need to move operations to be near floral resources, mentioning places like the forests of Michigan as an option. But Adee does not think that will be necessary.

Adee says South Dakota has a good climate for beekeeping and that the industry has remained steady in the state. This is also not the first drought Adee says he remembers experiencing, mentioning a period in the 70s where things were similarly dry. He says he expects things to balance out in the end.

One major threat to bees Adee spoke of is grasshoppers. The hopping, swarming insects aren’t much of a threat to the bees directly, says Adee. The danger comes from the response to grasshoppers. If the bugs threaten the crops in a region, producers will likely have to counter the threat with pesticides which in turn can harm the bees.

Adee says that farmers need to be conscious of importance of bees to their crops as well and work with beekeepers to make sure pesticides are applied at the proper times and in the correct amounts to avoid causing damage to bee populations.

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