Texas honey production dipped slightly, along with bee colony numbers, during 2021, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.
Molly Keck, AgriLife Extension entomologist and Beekeeping 101 instructor, Bexar County, said Winter Storm Uri in February and drought conditions in early spring negatively impacted honey production.
Keck said the combination of stressful conditions occurred at a critical time for overwintering bee colonies.
“The winter storm caused delayed wildflower bloom and that certainly impacted honey production,” Keck said. “It likely caused honeybee losses, especially in South Texas where bees are not acclimated to that type of freezing cold. But the lack of rain through the winter into late-April exacerbated the lack of forage availability for bees as hives became more active.”
Texas, national honey production
The annual U.S. Department of Agriculture Department honey report in March showed there were 157,000 honey-producing bee colonies across the state in 2020. Texas honey contributed 8.9 million pounds with a value of $17 million to overall U.S. production, 147.5 million pounds worth more than $299 million.
Keck said the reduced production could mean higher prices for retail honey, but that local conditions and production success or failure could play into what consumers ultimately pay for locally produced honey.
Texas beekeeping falls into three categories – hobbyists, sideliners and commercial. The actual amount of localized honey production is difficult to quantify due to the number of hobbyists and sideliners who do not participate in reporting.
Hobbyists are backyard beekeepers who keep bees, typically less than 10 hives, to meet Texas’ agriculture exemption for property taxes and/or to produce honey for their household, to share and/or sell locally. Sideliners typically have 50-250 hives but also maintain a full-time job.
Commercial beekeepers keep 500 colonies or more. Their livelihood depends on bee husbandry and by moving large numbers of hives around the state and nation to pollinate crops and/or produce honey.
A commercial beekeeper in Texas, for example, may deliver hives in the Rio Grande Valley to pollinate watermelon fields and move those same hives to the Texas Plains to pollinate cotton later in the growing season. Then in the summer they may move their colonies to South Dakota or North Dakota for clover honey production.
Interest in beekeeping increased in recent years, especially due to COVID-19. Interest among hobbyists is up like most homestead-type activities, including gardening and backyard poultry production, Keck said. There is also interest in beekeeping to gain property tax exemptions for smaller parcels.
Keck said some hobbyists and sideliners were reporting better outcomes in both honey production and hive populations this season despite the drop commercial honey producers experienced. She suspects restrictions at the height of the pandemic likely gave part-time beekeepers more opportunity to give their hives attention, whereas commercial producers may have had issues with labor.
“This was my second-best honey production year to date, despite the winter storm and late bloom,” she said. “I think a lot of the results came down to local conditions — their colony health coming out of winter and any interventions beekeepers made to help their colonies along when they needed it.”
Setting up for success next honey season
Keck said beekeepers around the state should be preparing their hives for winter.
September rains and warmer weather provided a late bloom that Keck said is helping colonies in some areas of the state stock away food stores to get them through December, January and February. But beekeepers should be monitoring colonies for any supplemental needs.
Keck said it is equally important that beekeepers monitor colonies for mites and reduce any infestations prior to overwintering.
“Bees are much like livestock in that we are responsible to provide what nature is not providing,” she said. “In parts of the state, especially the southern half, flowers may be blooming into December, but most hives are closed up at Thanksgiving and not opened back up until around Valentine’s Day. It’s not too late to help make sure you have done your part to help healthy colonies emerge next spring.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Temperatures were much cooler than recent weeks but normal for this time of year. Rains arrived ahead of the cool front with amounts ranging from half an inch up to 3 inches. Warm-season grasses were greening up. There was concern about increased armyworm pressure, and forage producers were being encouraged to monitor their small-grain fields for the pest. Cotton harvest continued, and prices and yields continued to be promising. Cotton farmers need cooperative weather to retain higher quality lint. Cotton yields were promising with reports of two to three bales per acre on dryland fields. Oat crops planted into dry soil emerged and were starting to tiller but were still too young for grazing. Small amounts of winter wheat were planted so far, but planting should pick up soon as seed orders were arriving. Fertilizer prices continued to rise and were high enough to discourage forage producers looking to make hay. Hay producers were also forgoing fertilizer applications for potential final warm-season grass cuttings. There were large volumes of hay around the district but much of it was low quality. High-quality hay was expected to demand premium prices. Cattle were in excellent condition, and stock tanks were full.
Temperatures were above normal with no rain reported. Winter wheat emergence was spotty due to dry conditions. Producers were opting to dry plant and hope for rainfall very soon. Grasshoppers were reported in pastures and emerging wheat. Wise County reported early planted wheat looked good due to good rains in recent weeks. There were reports of wild hogs rooting in wheat fields. Rain would help wheat but hurt cotton. Cotton bolls were beginning to open with some defoliation underway. The cotton crop was expected to be good, with some harvest operations starting. Motley County reported poor to fair cotton conditions. Peanut harvest was in full swing. Hay was being cut and baled. Ranchers were working cattle, and calves were being weaned. Cattle were receiving supplemental feed as warm-season grasses were showing signs of entering dormancy.
Most of the district received rain that delayed harvesting the small amount of remaining cotton. Cotton stalk destruction was also delayed due to wet conditions. Ratoon crop rice was near harvest. Earlier-planted cool-season pastures were in fair to good condition. There was still opportunity for a final cutting of hay. Reports on early pecan harvest were not good with pecan producers attributing the lack of quality to excess moisture. Cattle were doing well with market prices steady to higher.
Drought conditions worsened. Most counties showed signs of drought stress. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short. Planted winter pastures were struggling. Houston County reported producers were waiting to plant due to lack of moisture. They also reported problems with high horse fly populations on the east end of the county. Ponds and creeks were drying up. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplemental feeding. Wild hogs remained a problem for most producers.
Conditions were very dry. Farmers were busy stripping cotton across the district. Cotton crops were above average across the district. Producers were trying to finish up peanut harvest. Producers were also busy cutting sorghum and planting wheat. Cattle were in good condition.
Producers were busy with harvest activities in corn, sorghum and cotton. Corn harvest was close to wrapping up, but late-planted fields were still a couple of weeks away. Sorghum producers were harvesting fields destined for seed first. Cotton harvest was very close with many producers taking samples in fields. Weather was cooperating with producers so far. Winter wheat was being planted with the early plantings emerged and growing well. Conditions remained favorable for peanut harvest, with very good yields reported. Pastures and rangelands were in good condition, and supplemental feeding continued on a small scale.
Rainfall was reported but amounts varied around the district. Windy conditions and warm daytime temperatures dried soils. Soil moisture varied with most counties reporting very short to short conditions and a few reporting adequate to surplus soil moisture levels. Night temperatures were in the 60s with daytime temperatures in the 80s. Corn, sorghum, sunflowers and soybeans were harvested. Winter wheat fields were planted and beginning to emerge in fair to excellent condition. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to excellent, and livestock were in good condition. Ponds could use some water.
Nighttime temperatures ranged from the mid-50s to daytime temperatures in the mid- to high-80s and low-90s. Most areas received a heavy dew up to a half inch of rainfall, but isolated areas received up to 2.5 inches of rain. Snow flurries were reported in higher elevations of the Davis Mountains. High wind gusts were reported. Rangelands in lower elevations were stressed for moisture. Producers were planting wheat. Early planted wheat was not in good condition. Cotton was starting to boll. Upland cotton and some Pima cotton fields were being stripped. Pumpkin harvest peaked. Producers were harvesting pumpkins, peppers, corn and onions. Pecan orchards began harvesting Pawnee variety trees and producers continued to prepare for December to January harvests.
Many cotton fields were sprayed with defoliant. Cotton harvest started in some areas with better-than-expected yields, but yields still appeared below average. Pecans continued to mature, and some varieties were harvested. There was some late-season hay baling. Small grains planted before recent rains emerged and looked very good with warm days and plenty of sunshine. Scattered rains and cooler temperatures helped improve pasture conditions with some green up reported. Stock tanks were mostly full, and livestock looked good.
Weather was good, but soil conditions were drying. Rye planting was expected to begin soon. Producers were able to cut and bale some hay, but some fields were still too wet. Some cool-season forages emerged and looked good. Additional rains will be needed to stimulate growth. Rice ratoon crop continued to progress. Cooler weather was in the forecast. Livestock were in good condition. Rangeland and pasture ratings ranged from poor to excellent with mostly good ratings reported. Soil moisture levels ranged from very short to adequate.
Warmer temperatures were reported across the district. Rangeland and pasture conditions were good going into the fall and winter months. Wheat and oat fields received timely rains for emergence and will make good winter forage for livestock and wildlife. Hay production continued where moisture allowed. Fall gardeners were reporting good production. Livestock were in fair to good condition with cattle, sheep and goat prices remaining on the high side. Fall calving continued.
Conditions remained dry in most areas, but McMullen County reported spotty rain showers, and Jim Wells County reported areas received up to 2 inches of rainfall. Some counties reported 90-degree days and nights in the 70s. Northern, eastern and southern areas reported mild weather conditions with short to adequate soil moisture levels while western areas reported very short to adequate soil moisture. Peanut digging was ramping up, and strawberry plantings were 50% complete. Cotton harvest was completed in some areas. Ginning operations continued. Disking and shredding of cotton stalks continued as well. Vegetable crops were harvested, and fields were being prepared for cool season crops or small grains. Wheat and oat planting were nearing completion in some areas, and producers were preparing for planting in other areas. Row-crop farmers were preparing fields for next season. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline in some areas and improve in other areas depending on soil moisture levels. Livestock supplemental feeding continued to increase, but forage availability was still good in some areas. The number of cattle being marketed was decreasing in some areas, but high volumes of sales were driving prices downward at some sale barns. Fall calving continued and cattle were in good condition, but stocking rates were lower in most areas. Producers were making a final cutting in Coastal Bermuda grass pastures, and round bales were $50-$65. Feed prices continued to rise due to increasing demand. Native forbs responded well to previous rain events. Mesquite trees were starting to defoliate. Dove season was slowing down, and hunters were hoping for a decent quail season. Pecan harvests were below average so far. Citrus continued to receive irrigation while some orchards were being taken out of production. Sugarcane harvest started, and some additional acres were planted.