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Published July 09, 2015, 08:03 AM

North Dakota is abuzz with beekeepers

The number of licensed beekeepers in North Dakota has steadily increased over the past five years, from 182 to in 2010 to 246 this year, a 35 percent jump, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Officials cited a number of reasons for those figures, including efforts to make sure beekeepers are licensed and more out-of-staters looking to North Dakota, the nation’s No. 1 honey producer.

By: John Hageman, Forum News Service

The number of licensed beekeepers in North Dakota has steadily increased over the past five years, from 182 to in 2010 to 246 this year, a 35 percent jump, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Officials cited a number of reasons for those figures, including efforts to make sure beekeepers are licensed and more out-of-staters looking to North Dakota, the nation’s No. 1 honey producer.

Conrad Dietzler, who has a beekeeping operation based near Larimore, said increased canola production is helping attract more beekeepers.

“Now with all the canola, it’s drawn a lot of out-of-state beekeepers, and they see those fields of yellow and think it looks like gold,” he said.

As the number of beekeepers climbs, some rural landowners are concerned about hives showing up uninvited on their property, Dietzler said. A July 7 summit in Langdon, N.D., included discussion on relations between landowners and beekeepers, according to a meeting notice.

Samantha Brunner, the state apiary inspector, said bees being placed on someone’s property without permission can be the result of a simple misunderstanding.

“Sometimes the land changes hands and the beekeeper wasn’t notified,” she said.

Other times, beekeepers may knowingly be leaving hives on others’ property without permission, which can cause further headaches if their boxes don’t have any identification, said Richard Allen, a California-based beekeeper who is licensed in North Dakota.

“I’m sure it’s happening,” he said. “But most people try to be legitimate and follow the laws do it the right way with landowner permission, and that’s what we do.”

The state, with the help of beekeepers, has done a good job of cracking down on those issues in recent years, said Will Nissen, president of the North Dakota Beekeepers Association.

“I think in time, the state will do a good job of straightening it out,” he said.

Requirements

Prospective beekeepers have to apply for a license from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and indicate how many colonies they’ll have. They also have to register the locations where they’ll keep the bees and notify officials of their origin if they’re coming from outside North Dakota, Brunner said.

And starting Aug. 1, beekeepers may get verbal permission from landowners rather than presenting the Department of Agriculture with a written agreement between the two sides.

“They still have to get landowner permission and they still have to tell us where they’re putting the bees, but it’s not really our business what kind of a lease they sign or what kind of an agreement they have,” Brunner said. “It’ll lighten the load of paperwork. If they’re doing it incorrectly, we’re still going to get those calls from landowners saying they found hives that they have no idea who they belong to.”

Brunner said she’s tried to educate beekeepers on state requirements since she took over as apiary inspector in 2013. Around that time, some townships were throwing up “red flags” about passing zoning laws because of bees, she said.

“We just decided to make some changes to the program, and part of that was educating beekeepers and the public on what laws should be followed and what to do if they’re having problems,” she said.

One result of that effort has been more beekeepers leaving some kind of identifying signs on their hives, Brunner said.

Finding moisture

This is the second year Allen has kept some bees in North Dakota. He cited a prolonged drought in California, where he still keeps about a third of his bees.

“You’ve got moisture up here, you’ve got flowers and rainfall, something to bring the bees so they can get pollen and nectar and stay healthy,” he said. “You’ve got to find good territory for your bees to keep them healthy.”

The number of honey-producing colonies in California decreased slightly to 320,000 in 2014, down from 330,000 a year prior, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A few of the newly licensed beekeepers in North Dakota are hobbyists, Brunner said. Tim Hughes of Thompson, N.D., falls into that category. He said his new venture into beekeeping started as a dinner table conversation with his wife about the concern over the declining number of pollinators.

“I just started researching beekeeping and I thought, ‘Hey, for a few hundred dollars, let’s give it a shot,’ ” he said. “They’re very entertaining creatures. I can sit out in my pasture and watch them for hours.”

Dietzler picked up beekeeping from his dad, who also worked as a railroad engineer. He gave a tour of the operation last week that will be bustling with activity during harvest season later this year.

“I started out with 35 hives, and now we have 4,000,” he said.

Dietzler is helping keep North Dakota as the top honey producer in the country. In 2014, the state produced more than 42 million pounds of honey valued at more than $84 million, according to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

“It’s favorable for honey crops here,” he said.

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