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March 05, 2003   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
March 05, 2003

Alabama's honey flow usually begins in April and runs through June.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - While many farmers are facing low prices for their commodities, honey producers are finding things sweeter than usual. In fact, prices are higher than anyone can remember, according to one of the state's largest producers.

Sandy Harrell of Lowndes County, along with his brothers Richard and David Harrell, are third-generation bee and honey producers. Sandy said honey prices rose to $1.42 per pound last fall - up almost a dollar a pound from the same time last year when producers were getting about 48-cents a pound.

"The biggest factor for the price increase has been the restriction of imports from China," Harrell said. "The U.S. imports a lot of honey, most of it from China and Argentina. When U.S. inspectors found an unlawful antibiotic in some of the honey imported from China last year that stopped all the imports from there for a while. Then, when imports did open back up there were some pretty high tariffs in place."

While the outlook for honey prices appears bright, pests and other problems have caused colony numbers to drop in recent years, said Buddy Adamson, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Bee and Honey Division. "It will take more than a couple of good years to make up for those losses," he added.

It's the basic law of supply and demand. With less honey available in the U.S., prices went up. However, with this year's honey flow just around the corner - it usually starts in April and goes through June - producers like the Harrells aren't expecting prices to remain as high as they were last fall.

"Bee keeping is a lot of work, and when the money's not there, it's hard to get up and go tend to them like you should," Harrell said, but added that he thinks prices will continue to allow producers to make a profit this year.

With 3,000 colonies, the Harrells are one of the largest producers in Alabama. At one time, they had more than 8,000 colonies of bees scattered across several counties. While honey prices continued to fall or stay flat the past decade, operating expenses increased and producers saw increases in pests that damaged many colonies.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries reports there are 12,000 bee colonies in Alabama, down from 14,000 in 2001. However, Adamson said the number is probably closer to 17,000 colonies because many producers don't report their work to state ag officials. The department also estimates that honey sales in Alabama, using the state ag department colony figures, topped $1.1 million in 2002, up from $736,000 in 2001.

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