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August 31, 2009   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
August 31, 2009

Bill Mullins says Colony Collapse Disorder generated a greater awareness of how beneficial honeybees are to agriculture.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. --  As September ushers in National Honey Month, Alabama beekeepers say interest in beekeeping in the state continues to soar right along with brisk honey sales.

"The interest in beekeeping -- and honey sales -- have just gone through the roof in the last few years. It seems like everybody is buying honey now," said Bill Mullins of Meridianville, chairman of the Alabama Farmers Federation's State Bee & Honey Committee and one of an estimated 900 registered beekeepers in the state.

Mullins should know -- the Madison County beekeeper sells as much as 12,000 pounds of honey a year as well as beeswax candles, pollen and other products from a gift shop near his home.

Mullins, who has about 300 hives at 17 locations throughout Madison County, attributes much of the increase in honey sales to surging enrollment in beekeeping workshops throughout the state. He says a workshop earlier this year at Huntsville Botanical Gardens drew about 80 students. Of those, Mullins says 10 to 20 percent will actually start keeping bees.

Mullins also says media attention in recent years on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), an unexplained phenomenon in which worker bees abandon the hive, generated "buzz" on beekeeping. Ironically, Alabama has NOT had a single case of CCD, according to Dennis Barclift, state apiarist with the Alabama Department of Agriculture.

"Because of CCD, people have become more aware of bees, and how they benefit us," Mullins said, noting honeybees' important role in pollinating flowers and agricultural crops. Fully one-third of the human diet is food pollinated mostly by honeybees. In Alabama, honey is primarily produced from sourwood, gallberry, clover, tulip poplar, soybeans and cotton.

"Honey is one of nature's most versatile products," said Buddy Adamson, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Bee & Honey Division. "It contains vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants and minerals. I recommend using honey as a sugar substitute in baking, coffee, cereal, oatmeal and other foods."

Honey production, like most agricultural products, depends heavily on the right weather and climate conditions. After an extended drought from 2005-2008, heavy rains in 2009 have hampered production. Even so, the economic impact that honey has on the state is significant.

According to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average annual honey production in Alabama is 780,000 pounds and is valued at $1.1 million. The pollination value, in Alabama alone, is estimated to be $45-$90 million as honeybees play a critical component in producing such crops as watermelons, apples, blueberries, cantaloupes, peaches, pumpkins, blackberries, grapes, persimmons, strawberries, cucumbers, honeydew, pears, plums, sunflowers and vegetable seed.

"The honeybee is part of Alabama's labor force," said Mullins. "The work that they do can't be measured in jars of honey alone. Without them, we'd all be starving."

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