How much of a salary can you expect as a beekeeper? Hmm, that’s a great question. People can and do make money in a beekeeping career. But, how much money you make as a beekeeper is determined by many different things – including whether manage your hives alone or with help. And, let’s not deny that a bit of good luck doesn’t hurt either.
While most people who keep bees do not start with the intention of having a true bee farm business, many do hope to make some profit.
Beekeepers Salary For a Year
Beekeepers in the United States have an average annual income of about $40,300 in salary. But, this average has such a wide range of highs and lows that is doesn’t mean very much.
There are many variables in determining the salary of persons working in the beekeeping industry. The area of the country where the hives are located, market conditions, beekeeper experience and more are all factors.
Someone managing hives in California might have a different income level than a beekeeper in Alabama.
If you are contemplating a beekeeper’s income for yourself, you should start with your state Agriculture Department as they can advise on totals that are relevant to your region.
How Many Beehives to Make a Full Time Income
Most of the beekeepers I know that make a living with bees have over 200 hives. But, the number of hives required to make a full-time income varies from one individual to another.
If this is a dream you are considering, first consider a few questions? How much money do you need to consider it a full-time job? If you hope to make a $50K a year salary, the effort and hive numbers are different than the backyard apiarist hoping to clean an extra $5K for the season.
What are the living expenses in your region? Will you work alone or hope to hire laborers? All of these factor into the total income needed for a year.
You can make a lot of money with bees but you also must be prepared to spend a lot of money. Startup costs of beekeeping are heaviest in the first years.
However, even as time goes on – equipment wears out and must be replaced. The corners of boxes begin to break down, wax foundation needs replaced -all exposed parts of the hive wear over time.
Also, beekeeping is an agriculture adventure and subject to being affected positively and negatively by weather conditions.
You will have good years with nice profits and bad years with little to no extra money. It is wise to have money set aside to see you through those years when profits are low.
Beekeeping Profit Per Hive
Healthy bees in a region with ample nectar sources can produce a profit of $300-$500 per hive each year. Most small scale beekeepers seek to produce excess honey.
To get the maximum profit, you need to sell your honey in a market that is willing to pay what it is worth. Unless you get a good price for honey, you may find that your beekeeper salary is rather dismal.
However, even small scale backyard beekeepers can make some profit from the excess honey produced by a few hives.
One way to increase your beekeeping profits (especially at the start) is sharing harvesting equipment such as honey extractors, bottling tanks etc. among a few friends.
Most beekeepers stay in this hobby phase, the small amounts of product sold to friends and neighbors provides a little extra cash. They recoup some of the expenses of keeping their hives but it is not a full income by any measure.
In times gone by, most commercial beekeepers made money by producing honey and renting bees for pollination (migratory beekeeping). In today’s global market, few large beekeepers make a full time living from honey production in the US.
The low prices of imported honey has made it very difficult for US beekeepers to compete in the market. Still, some large-scale honey producers move colonies from state to state following the nectar flow.
Today, pollination jobs have become the main focus of some commercial beekeepers. This is possible due to the portability of honey bees. The colonies live as large families in hives that can be moved from one location to another.
Bee pollination is very important to modern agriculture. However, pollination beekeeping has expenses of its own to consider. Moving bees from one location to another involves special equipment, time and money.
Beekeeper Job Description
The beekeeper’s main responsibility is to keep the colonies healthy. A healthy colony makes more honey or pollinates more blossoms than a sick one.
Your salary is determined by the area in which you live, your skill level and the business model of the owner. Some resources quote a beekeeper salary of $12 – $25 per hour.
If you operate your own business, in addition to maintaining your hives, you have to make business decisions. Should you expand the apiary by getting more beehives?
How many hives are too many? It can be difficult to determine how many hives you can manage on your own.
The best plan is to slowly grow the number of hives in your apiary. You will know when it gets to be too much.
Then, you can decide whether or not to hold at that level or hire help. Do not keep more hives than you can manage. This only leads to unhealthy hives that are poor producers.
Working Conditions in an Apiary
Honey bees are insects that are active during the warm months. In fact, beekeeping can be hot, sticky work-as many of the jobs must be performed during the hottest months of the year.
Here in the South we often say “It’s easy to be a good beekeeper in April, it’s what happens in July and August that separates the beekeepers from the bee-havers”.
What about stings? Honey bees sting for defense? Beekeepers do get stung in spite of protective gear. The more colonies you have the more likely you are to encounter stinging situations.
However, with experience and proper protective bee clothing, beekeepers learn how to minimize stings.
How to Increase Profits
Whether you are a hobbyist, side-liner or commercial beekeeper, there are ways to increase your profit margins. Every business has ways of cutting waste.
Maintain healthy colonies to take advantage of peak productivity. This means controlling parasites by using varroa mite treatments (if needed) all through the season to avoid colony loss.
Plan ahead and buy supplies in bulk to reduce costs. Some beekeeping suppliers have sales at the end and beginning of the season.
Often the mid-level apiarist (beekeeper) can save some money by buying larger quantities of beekeeping equipment such as frames, foundation or even boxes.
The easiest way to increase profits is to expand your product line. Think beyond honey – this can be done even at the hobby level.
If you have a larger apiary, you might produce income by catering to local beekeepers who want to buy nuc colonies in the Spring. Some hobbyist enjoy rearing local queens. Queen rearing is a lot of work but it is a lot of fun and there are always beekeepers nearby who want them.
The salary of a beekeeper can be quite high. However, as with any type of farming – the risks are also higher than many conventional jobs.
If you want to make a living income as a beekeeper, it is possible. However, it is not a get-rich quick scheme but involves a lot of hard work and the effort to learn how to manage your apiary effectively.
Yes, beekeeping can be a great career choice for the individual who is enthralled by the insect world and is willing to put in the time and effort to advance. My apiarist start as a laborer and work their way up to being an apiary manager and enjoying the benefits of the higher position in a large beekeeping operation.
If you desire to try beekeeping as a way to make a living, I do not want to dissuade you. However, I will caution that it might be good to work for a larger beekeeper first. Beekeeping ain’t easy and even the best apiaries lose colonies each year.
Not every hive will be profitable – some will die and some will drag along never reaching their potential. As with any agriculture adventure you will have all the the joys and heartaches that go along with this way of life.
There are much easier ways to make money than keeping bees. To be happy with full-time beekeeper income, you must have a passion for it. For those that do, it is an invigorating way of life with constant new horizons and curves in the road.