A look at the Mercer County Bee Industry
By Jarann Johnson
When the state of North Dakota is mentioned in the national news, it’s mostly about oil in the western part of the state or the North Dakota State football team. Other than those two things, the average American doesn’t know much about North Dakota.
One thing that will surprise North Dakotans and the average Americans is that North Dakota is the top honey-producing state in the country, supplying 42 million pounds of honey valued at $84 million during 2014. North Dakota tops the warmer states in the west and south to the surprise of many.
In Mercer County there are an estimated 321 locations with bee hives. With North Dakota being the top honey-producing state, most would logically tie bees to the farming industry, but that logical tie doesn’t exist according to one local farmer.
Daryn Karges farms near Hazen and lets beekeepers place their hives on his land. But he said most farmers in the state are producing self-pollinating small grains, which don’t need bee pollination. Unlike wild fruits.
“Really, what you have going on here is that 90 percent of North Dakota’s crops don’t need bees to pollinate them. Wheat, barley, and all your small grains like corn, those are your self-pollinating crops,” Karges said.
“In North Dakota I would say that most of the landowners don’t see much direct benefit from bees if that makes sense. Now, the few people that have orchards or vineyards, that type of thing – of course private gardens – those all need bees to pollinate. The wild fruit needs bees to pollinate.”
An issue may develop between beekeepers and landowners in the industry, though. Beekeepers have been fighting a hive loss problem, which some beekeepers have estimated a national hive loss average of around 40 to 50 percent.
Local beekeeper Dusty Backer –owner and operator of Backer Bees, said his average loss in the past 10 years has been around 18 percent, and that last year he was at 24 percent for hive loss. Backer warned that he has heard of some higher numbers, though, in the beekeeping community.