Honey bees play an essential role in our global food system. They are responsible for one-third of the foods we eat, including a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs and spices. They are essential to packaged foods, with many of America’s favorite brands and products using pollinated ingredients in their products.
Hundreds of years ago, a beekeeper's role in the food system was focused only on honey production. Most farms grew an assortment of crops that fed their local communities, and wild honey bee colonies, insects and birds were able to handle pollination needs.
Today, the food system has evolved into a marvel of modern efficiency. We’ve monocropped much of the country and world as a means to efficiently and effectively feed a global population of 7.9 billion people. This monocropping requires significant pollination efforts that can only be done by honey bees. According to the United States Department of Agriculture,
- Honey bees alone pollinate 90% of all flowering plants
- Honey bees alone pollinate more than 130 types of fruits and vegetables
- Honey bees are solely responsible for pollinating almonds, avocados, apples, blueberries and more
Honey bees play a vital role in our global food supply, as they are responsible for producing the honey we enjoy and pollinating so many of our favorite foods. But, honey bees can’t do it alone. They need the help of beekeepers.
By supporting beekeepers, promoting healthy honey bee populations, and fostering a strong honey industry, we can help ensure that our food system remains vibrant and sustainable for years to come.
Beekeepers and honey bees have a symbiotic relationship. Beekeepers make sure honey bees have a diverse diet, a hive free from parasites and plenty of honey to eat. In return, a healthy honey bee hive produces more honey than it needs, which the beekeeper extracts and supplies to the food industry.
In addition to supplying honey, beekeepers perform countless other roles that are essential to the health of honey bees.
- Beekeepers are gracious hosts: They provide the perfect home for bees, which is a hive that is dry, dark and protected from severe weather elements and curious animals.
- Beekeepers are nutritionists: Similar to humans, honey bees thrive on a diverse diet. With the prevalence of monocrop agriculture, well-manicured lawns and the liberal use of pesticides, that’s becoming more difficult to find. Beekeepers ensure their hives are placed in areas that can support a nutritious, diverse diet.
- Beekeepers are like honey bee doctors: A beekeeper’s primary goal is to keep healthy bees. However, bees are like humans and can get sick, whether from a pathogen or parasite. Beekeepers regularly inspect their hives to identify and address any potential health issues, implementing disease mitigation measures with the oversight of a veterinarian, as needed. This stewardship is essential to the health of honey bees around the world.
- Beekeepers are like parents: Beekeepers ensure a hive has plenty of honey to eat during the winter, but they also make sure a hive doesn’t have so much honey that it becomes honey bound. A hive that is honey bound is storing an excessive amount of honey in the brood nest, which can impede the queen bee's ability to lay eggs and lead to a reduction in the population of worker bees.
Beekeepers also play a crucial role in pollination and its positive impact on the food industry. By working with farmers and managing hives in areas where crops are grown, beekeepers help ensure that these crops are adequately pollinated, leading to higher yields and better quality produce.
Without beekeepers, honey bee populations would be at greater risk of decline, which could have significant consequences for both the environment and our food supply.
The food industry also plays a role in the symbiotic relationship between honey bees and beekeepers. Purchasing honey helps support the beekeepers that protect honey bees. The food industry’s support of the honey industry also helps fund honey bee research, plant more forage and support initiatives designed to make these essential pollinators thrive.
Visit www.honey.com or watch the National Honey Board’s Celebrating Beekeeping video series to learn more about the essential role honey bees and beekeepers play in the food industry