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How to Start A Beekeeping Business
The idea of starting a beekeeping business or bee farm is intriguing to many people. Due to recent media attention on honey bees, beginner beekeeping has become a hot topic. Like any business, there is a difference between doing something for a hobby versus running it like a business. Before you delve into the business world of beekeeping, you have some things to consider.
What is a Bee Farming?
What does it mean to have a bee farm? Well, that term is used very broadly. In our minds, we picture large fields with hundreds of honey bee hives. This is true in many cases.
But, bee farming does not have to involve thousands of hives. Some small scale beekeepers have 50 or less beehives. Your apiary can be any size.
Not every bee farm or beekeeper will actually sell bees. Bee farmers provide a variety of goods and services.
Perhaps you are interested in selling honey, beeswax and other hive products. This is a great way to have a beekeeping business on a smaller scale.
Is Bee Farming Profitable?
Okay, now you have been bitten by the honey bee bug! You want a few hives and you want to make some money too!
It is possible to have your own bee farm and make a profit? Yes – but it will not happen over night.
How much money you make will depend on how much time and money you are willing to invest and your local economy.
And it may require just a bit of luck as well, managing bees for profit has it’s ups and downs.
Some beekeeping businesses do quite well at selling equipment and supplies to other beekeepers. This can be profitable but it requires space and inventory.
Or, you may want to provide bee pollination services for farmers. And yes, some bee farms do grow and sell bees to new beekeepers.
If you want to serve people who buy honey bees, your yearly schedule may be a bit different from a bee farmer only interested in honey production.
You must evaluate your goals and plan with them in mind. If you are prepared for hard work, a bee farm can be a viable business.
It is common to under-estimate the amount of work, capital expense and risks associated with any agricultural business .
Your hives will be filled with worker bees. But you may be working alone. A lot of effort goes into any beekeeping operation upfront.
Financial risks exist for the small scale beekeeper or a commercial beekeeper with thousands of hives. This is true for any endeavor that involves farming.
Can You Have a Bee Farm in a City?
Absolutely, as long as you have enough space for your hives. And enough forage in your area for the bees to be healthy. Some cities have rooftop beehive gardens.
Of course, you would need to check local regulations and have a primary interest in public safety. A bee farm in a city would usually consist of a small number of hives.
A Beekeeping Business is Farming
When you start with bees, you are starting a farm. Your livestock lives in hives not a barn. When they go out to forage, they are free flying and not contained within fencing.
So you can easily see how it is difficult to keep your bee livestock safe and under control. And like all farming, beekeeping can be risky.
You will be subject to weather extremes and you will have colonies die. And, you will have some colonies that do not produce honey every year.
This could be the result of poor management on your part or other problems that could not be prevented. Even with the best bee management you will have some losses.
Develop a Beekeeping Business Plan
Proper planning is vital to success. This includes planning your expenses and work plan for the year and then tracking how things went.
Make note of what works and what does not – it’s okay to make mistakes but try to avoid repeating them over and over.
Good Hive records are vital to beekeepers- whether you have 1 hive or 100..
If you plan to approach your beekeeping endeavor as a business, you should maintain good records – especially expenses. It’s easy to remember money coming in.
The best way I have found to do this is with a dedicated expense book. Expenses (equipment for yourself and the bees) and hopefully income amounts accumulate quickly.
Transactions that you were sure you could remember are forgotten. A good record of approved business expenses is important. Check with a tax professional to learn what is allowed as a deduction.
How to Make Bee Farming Profitable
Many people approach keeping bees as a hobby. These backyard beekeepers do sometimes sell a few jars of honey to offset costs.
But if you intend to make a profit, you must consider what you will be selling. Also, you will need a plan to market your products – most buyers will not seek you out.
Will you remain a small business long term? Or, do you hope to develop a large business and sell honey bees? Or, will you sell honey? If you hire staff to help, you may do both.
Maximize Beekeeping Profits by Diversifying
Maximize every aspect of beekeeping that you can. This is true whether you have a small bee farm of 4 hives or thousands of hives spread across several bee yards.
Little streams of income will add up over a season. Having different products increases your volume of sales by appealing to a more diverse group of consumers.
Selling Bees to Other Beekeepers
What about selling extra bees ? Many beekeepers produce income from selling bees or beekeeping equipment. This can be a profitable side of beekeeping.
Raising bees with success revolves around temperatures, weather conditions and foraging conditions. As the bee farmer, you can only control some aspects of bee production.
Many businesses make some big bucks offering bees for sale in the Spring and selling bee supplies. However, this requires a larger money investment and has greater risks as well.
Offer Pollination Services
Using honey bees for pollination is big business too in some areas. However, you may not want to move large trucks of bees across the country.
But, even smaller beekeeping businesses can offer pollination service to small farms. Ask around at local roadside farm stands and you may find some opportunities.
Some beekeepers with a few extra hives rent them out for the season. This is for people who want beehives on their property but are not interested in managing the hives themselves.
Selling Honey from Your Hives
Honey is a popular income producing product for small-scale beekeepers. Almost every beekeeper who considers themselves a business-sells honey.
But making a great honey crop is not something you can depend on every year. It is important to remember the farming aspects of producing honey.
Weather conditions such as : too much rain, too little rain, late frosts or high winds affect the amount of honey that a colony of bees can produce.
When selling honey, what you are able to charge will depend somewhat on the average price of honey in your region.
But don’t give your honey away for dirt cheap prices. You deserve fair market value for your hard work.
Starting a Honey Business Plan
It make take a couple of years before you have much honey for sale. But a big part of developing a beekeeping business, or any other business, is planning ahead.
After you learn the basics of managing bees, they will hopefully be productive. Harvest time arrives – how will you harvest your honey?
If you plan to sell honey, you will want to use an extractor. An economical extractor can be purchased for the beekeeper with less than 10 hives. As your business grows, so will your needs.
Honey Extractors hold their value well. When it is time to upgrade, you can sell the smaller one. Honey extractors come in many sizes styles and prices.
A local supplier for jars and lids is needed. Canning jars are okay but labels look better on a jar with no raised lettering.
You can order jars online or obtain them from local glass companies but they may require you to buy a large amount.
Selling Honey Legally
Most states have specific requirements for honey jar labels. Regulations pertaining the the exact information that must be included on the label. Some states even regulate the size of the lettering.
We must remember that when selling honey, we are selling food for human consumption.
This is the reason for regulation from state officials. Some states will have cottage laws that exempt beekeepers from many restrictions.
Check with your state agricultural department to ensure that you are following the law.
Print your own honey labels using the proper honey labeling requirements or buy labels ready to use.
Selling Excess Raw Beeswax
Beeswax is another product beekeepers can sell. Beeswax is left over from honey harvesting. This beeswax can be sold raw to other beekeepers and businesses.
In addition to industry uses, you may choose to make your own beeswax candles to sell for a good profit. Candles can be sold to local businesses or in your online store.
You do not have to create your own crafts. With so many ways to use beeswax, crafters will pay good money for pure raw beeswax.
You may decide to specialize on only 1 aspect of beekeeping products or perhaps you will diversify and do a little of each.
Honey Bee Business Regulations
Do you need a business license or product liability insurance? Maybe. You may also need to collect and pay sales tax. Again, each state is different.
How will you sell your products? If you have any thoughts of selling honey at events, you will need a pop-up tent. Don’t buy the cheapest one you find.
Read the reviews and choose a sturdy model – the really cheap shade tents are so easy to damage. It’s worth the effort to pay a few dollars more.
When I was attending area festivals, I purchased a metal cash box. I wrote down the amount of cash inside (to make change) and at the end of the day I counted the total.
This helped me keep track of how much I sold. I would then pay the sales tax out of my profits. That was much easier than trying to handle pennies at an event.
Contact your state officials to find out the regulations that apply in your area.
State Beekeeping Business Regulations
Some states require registration of each bee hive and permits for moving bees across state lines. This is true whether you have 1 hive or thousands.
Check with your state agriculture department before you invest in a beekeeping business. They can help you understand any requirements related to the selling of honey or bees.
Does your neighborhood allow bee hives? Be sensible. Having 50 hives on a ½ acre lot is not a good idea.
Bees will swarm. Trust me, a few thousand bees hanging in a bush can cause quite a bit of excitement.
Promoting Your Bee Farm Products
Talk up what you are doing. Tell friends, neighbors, co-workers and others about your products.
Check out the local price for honey. Bottle your honey in different jar types and sizes.
Don’t under price your premium honey. You and your bees worked hard. Your goal to start a beekeeping business will fail if you don’t make a profit.
Honey production varies from year to year. Adjust your jar size and cost to reflect local demand. Either sell your honey for a fair profitable price or give it away.
Be aware that friends and family will ask for discounts. Be careful going down that road. Once you give it away or sell it really cheap, others want the same deal. Is this a hobby or a business?
Connect with Local Beekeepers
All beekeeping has a local component. Connect with beekeepers in your area to learn important climate information.
They can tell you about local forage plants, bloom time and average yield for a colony.
The bees themselves don’t vary much within a region but local weather conditions have a great effect on honey production. Not every area is good for bees.
Be kind in your business dealings. Some beekeepers will be afraid that you will try to take their customers. Don’t. Do your own thing.
Some will feel threatened or jealous when you have some success. Prepare for it. Not everyone who smiles is your friend.
Managing a Beekeeping Business Has a Learning Curve
The art of beekeeping has changed a lot in the last 30 years. Educate yourself about honey bee management before getting that first hive.
Starting a beehive is a bit different than other activities. Plan to spend a couple of years learning before you seriously try to “be a business”.
Search out local beekeeping classes given for free or low cost by beekeeping associations. Don’t think that 1 class will teach you everything you need to know. It won’t.
Beekeeping takes time and patience. After years of teaching local beekeepers I developed my online beekeeping class it does a great job of helping beginners.
Education is an important aspect of being a good beekeeper. Take several beekeeping classes, free and paid. You can learn something different from each source.
Beginner beekeeping tips and advice from experienced beekeepers always have something good to offer.
Is Bee Farming Bad?
A bee farm is like any other kind of business. Some do it with care and respect for their livestock and others do it just for profit.
A responsible beekeeper tries to work with the natural tendencies of the honey bee. And, has great concern for their health and well-being.
Is bee farming ethical? That is a matter of opinion but I say yes – if the beekeeper is ethical.
Final Thoughts on Starting Your Bee Farm Business
The best advice on how to start your own bee farm is go slow. Don’t grow your hive numbers too fast. Honey bee colonies can fail quickly without proper management.
Have fun. Learn how to be a good beekeeper first. Then, you are ready to be a good beekeeping business owner.