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The sustainability of making reasonable money off breeding bees.

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I just would like to get opinions on the sustainably of bee breeding as a future business. So to be open about it, me and two other friends have a common goal to come together and get into the bee breeding and queen rearing, we have a ruff idea of building up to around 1000 hives.

 

What concerns me is the situation of manuka, I'm told there was little money in bee breeding before manuka, but how little? Much above minimum wage at the time, better than working in a super market? So the concern is based on what if the manuka industry crashed and I find myself with nucs and queens that I can not sell, or for such little money it barely covers cost. It's putting me off a little, but should I be worried? I'm not after making great money, just a fair honest income and the rest of the rewards will come in the form of my passion for bees.

 

On other note, how about the international market, could this be cracked as to avoid depandence on the local market? I'm told by an older fellow at asurequality that Canada for example is a huge market, perhaps even North America in general. Could there be hope in exporting bees alone?

 

Thanks for any advice, I am super serious about it all, but I also want to balance my enthusiasm with caution as I don't want to end up disappointed, though I am prepared to do what it takes to be successful.

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Exporting bees to Canada is best done as an addition to a honey production business. IE, the Canadians want packages in their spring, which is our autumn. So after honey harvest when hives have a lot of surplus bees, instead of them hanging around waiting to die they can be put in packages and sent to Canada. Any reasonable hive can probably spare at least 2 kg's of bees at that time with no detriment to the hive at all. In some cases it's actually a plus, if there is no flow & all those bees are doing is consuming winter stores while waiting for the population to naturally reach wintering numbers.

 

Be aware there are big costs associated with exporting bees. I don't want to give specific figures but a large exporter told me last year that legal compliance had cost him many tens of thousands of dollars.

 

If you are wanting to set up a business with 1000 hives I would DEFINATELY recommend working for a successful commercial beekeeper first for at least a year but preferably two. Most people say they don't have time for that they want to get started, the result is years of struggle. You can set up the business at the same time as working for someone else.

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So self employment comes with all the above concerns you mention. It depends on your appetite for risk. It won't always be plain sailing and is never easy money. At times its damned uncomfortable, but it comes with other benefits too which are often not satisfied working for someone else.

 

You will need plenty of drive and financial control.

 

Just speaking generally as I have no experience making a living from bees.

 

Best of luck with your journey:)

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Thanks @Alastair,

 

What sort of numbers does Canada consume, as much as you can send their way? Also I notice Beeline breeders seem to have a export market for their queens, I wonder where many of them end up.

 

Regarding experience I definitely agree, though fortunately for me, one of my friends whom is interested into going into business with me is in fact a successful manuka bee keeper, he field manages 1000 hives (not his own) with a team of guys under him. He's been in the game since leaving school and has gained all his experience locally which will also benefit me since I plan on sticking around to breed bees here.

 

1000 sounds like a huge number i know, but no way would I attempt anywhere near this on my own, nor without the experience first. I figured 3 years seems realistic between 3 of us.

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So self employment comes with all the above concerns you mention. It depends on your appetite for risk. It won't always be plain sailing and is never easy money. At times its damned uncomfortable, but it comes with other benefits too which are often not satisfied working for someone else.

 

Thanks M4tt for being a loyal supporter of my posts. :)

 

Yes I agree, actually I am self employed right now and I know it's tuff, also I've been brought up with my parents being self employed and often struggling to get bills paid, forever chasing people to pay invoices, can be a real headache. Also now the old man is self employed with a machine and it took years but hes scored solid yearly contracts, and that's set him up for ages, it took hard work to build his reputation, but now it's paying off.

 

I have to certainly be careful with what I spend I think, make all the hive gear myself, try not to go too silly on other equipment and be wise about how I manage my time, and most of all be patient! I am tempted to buy a whole heap of hives in Feb, but perhaps I should take it slower and build up my own numbers for free instead.

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Good idea. Build them up yourself and while you do it you will be learning invaluable beekeeping skills.

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I think breeding bees is a good idea. Nucs being sold in trademe tells it's more lucrative than any other parts of bee related product.

Perhaps you want to set up a base camp some where near waimakariri river or kaiapoi ir rangiora ....

On a hindsight I should have done it ages ago near halswell....

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I think breeding bees is a good idea. Nucs being sold in trademe tells it's more lucrative than any other parts of bee related product.

Perhaps you want to set up a base camp some where near waimakariri river or kaiapoi ir rangiora ....

On a hindsight I should have done it ages ago near halswell....

 

Yea well that goes back to my original point that I don't think we can bank on current prices as being "sustainable." It would seem a bit silly to base a business on current prices of nucs, because if that all goes belly up, then what? I think it would be wise to at least prepare for a bust industry and setting up a business that can still make it through those down times.

 

Perhaps what's key is quality of bees and queens? I guess it's not just about supply and demand, but quality too right?

 

In terms of base camp, my idea is finding spots that hug Christchurch's residential zones, plenty of paddocks that surround the place, it doesn't seem so stressful finding spots when ya don't have to worry about getting a particular nectar source.

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one of my friends whom is interested into going into business with me is in fact a successful manuka bee keeper, he field manages 1000 hives (not his own) with a team of guys under him.
Oh, well that makes all the difference, and stands you in much better stead than a lot of new start ups. Presumably if he is running a team of guys he is effectively running a business now, just for someone else.

 

As to Canada I don't know how much they buy. I did read they are moving now much more to sustainability (overwintering hives), than they used to, now bees are getting more expensive for them plus there is a supply shortage.

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your going to need deep pockets if your going to jump in with 1000 hives.

have you priced the hives, the storage for the gear (we are building shed no3 at the mo), the vehicles, extraction plant, suitable land to put it all on, staff payroll ?

 

exporting bees, you will need to tie in with the exporters eg aratakai as to do the actual exporting part is hugely complicated and 1000 hives worth is fairly small. btw i'm told carnies are preferred.

 

i can't comment on what you could get for breeding queens, i would imagen getting a foot in the door into supplying several commercial crowds would be in order.

as far as sustainably goes, beekeeping is getting good prices at the mo so you should budget on lower prices than what they are currently getting.

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Queen breeding needs feeding instead of natural nectar.

Contact Chelsea. They sell liquid sugar in tank lorry to beekeepers. You need an indoor septic tank to store the liquid bulk sugar.

 

You need to control feeding since bees act differently when queens statrs laying. At the same time you need to control temperature during winter for condensation. This means electric heating is needed like warm up style in your tiled bathroom.

 

In Canada some beekeepers use queen banking to over winter.

The highest price is at the beginning of the spring when the demand exceeds supply. So keeping hundres queens stored in a special hive makes sense.

 

In addition you need to have worker bee population increase ahead of time when approaching spring. This is different fom nature's clock. Do you need to control feeding and temperature plus species for early breeding.

 

In terms of market, I think it is a sun rising industry. It is young. what you see is price fluctuations between seasons. It is not the mature situation yet.

 

You need capital when you try to upgrade from handyman style hobbyist to mass production to capture this opportunity.

 

In the honey production sector orders frequently exceed production capacity.

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Oh, well that makes all the difference, and stands you in much better stead than a lot of new start ups. Presumably if he is running a team of guys he is effectively running a business now, just for someone else.

.

 

I'm lucky here to be honest, his motivation is that he's working very hard, yet still on an hourly rate. The reason we want to go the bee breeding route besides the obvious interest side of the things is that these days Manuka sites are probably tricky to get, he has 70 of his own hives, but hes even worried that his boss wont let him put them on the Manuka once he leaves, none of us want to step on toes here, so we would rather stay away from that side of things unless a fair site pops up eventually.

 

 

 

your going to need deep pockets if your going to jump in with 1000 hives.

have you priced the hives, the storage for the gear (we are building shed no3 at the mo), the vehicles, extraction plant, suitable land to put it all on, staff payroll ?.

 

I can certainly understand this, costs make big jumps even when hive numbers increase in a linear fashion, for example, at some point I will need a truck, they ain't cheap. At this point, we have no plans on bothering with honey, therefore no extraction plant needed. I figured that since our hives will stay put, there is no stress of trying to get them to sites at the right time, or taking honey off in a hurry, so perhaps 1000 breeding hives would be less work than 1000 honey hives. In terms of sites, well I will work on that as I go, already scored a site than can hold around 100 and that was the first farmer I asked so far.

 

 

 

1, don't underestimate the cost of gear, even if you diy

2, budget on producing half of what you think you can

3, budget on getting half the price you think you can

4, budget on doing twice the hours you think you will

5, have an exit strategy, budget on realizing half of what you hope

6, make sure your mates are really your mates, money changes things...

 

then you will be fine...

 

Thanks Meerkatt, thing is, if all beekeepers followed these rules then would anyone actually ever bother doing it? How on earth would people cope making money from non manuka honey if they banked on much lower profits, I take it there is a fine margin as it is.

 

However you do make excellent points, especially on the production side of things and lower prices, weather and disease can really effect things, then if the industry crashes, prices will drop, so these things need to be factored in. Doesn't look that appealing at all at worse case scenario, but what industry does? We ain't trying to print money.

 

Also I also understand how it's very important to make sure we are going to get on together, I'm confident none of us are greedy or expect much money, however we all have a strong passion and have our own unique attributes to bring to the table. It was my original idea, so perhaps it may work out better if I make it my own thing then employ them instead, then there will be no banging heads together.

 

Thanks everyone.

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At this point, we have no plans on bothering with honey, therefore no extraction plant needed.

 

 

No extraction plant is fair enough - you can always get it contract extracted or sell to an extracting packer, but trust me, you will be 'bothering with honey'.

 

 

I figured that since our hives will stay put, there is no stress of trying to get them to sites at the right time, or taking honey off in a hurry,

 

As above, whether or not honey is your primary focus, you will need to deal with it, and in a timely fashion or it will very quickly stuff up your breeding operation.

 

 

 

so perhaps 1000 breeding hives would be less work than 1000 honey hives.

 

No.

 

 

Thanks Meerkatt, thing is, if all beekeepers followed these rules then would anyone actually ever bother doing it? How on earth would people cope making money from non manuka honey if they banked on much lower profits, I take it there is a fine margin as it is.

 

Don't discount what Meerkatt's saying easily - he's right on the mark. Maybe not all of those circumstances are likely to happen at once, but they do happen, and they do come in bunches.

 

Example: In the past week I've spoken to two beekeepers from two different regions to my own who are struggling with the season - one of them commented that they should have half their crop in their hives right now, instead there's no crop and they've just bought another tonne of sugar - in the first week of December no less - to keep their bees alive in the hope that something starts producing. So there's your half production, PLUS added feed costs just to keep them going.

 

The second beekeeper hasn't been feeding because they haven't got the cash reserves, and they've been watching the populations in their hives go backwards, dangerously so. At this point even if something does start to flow next week, those hives will be in recovery mode, not production mode. They won't be production fit for a long time yet - whether there'll be any honey to be had by that time....

 

For myself, I set up 30 4 frame nucs this spring - 15 I pre-sold to my students, 15 were to be for my own increase. Due to crappy weather resulting in about 50% queen mating, I now have two of the nucs intended for myself left, having had to use the queens from the others to shore up nucs to be sold.

 

Actually, now that I think about it.. mating has been less than 50%, because I bought in some replacement cells and 5 mated queens as well to move things on. Probably closer to 30%.

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for example, at some point I will need a truck, they ain't cheap. At this point, we have no plans on bothering with honey, therefore no extraction plant needed.

you will need a few vehicles. don't forget forklift. it won't be just the pair of you in one vehicle doing the rounds, it will be a least two teams, maybe three.

you will need honey to be extracted. honey will still be part of your income. it can be contracted out IF you can find someone and finding someone each year can be a problem. which is why most, if they can afford to, get their own plant.

 

 

so perhaps 1000 breeding hives would be less work than 1000 honey hives.

i would say a lot more work.

 

 

How on earth would people cope making money from non manuka honey if they banked on much lower profits, I take it there is a fine margin as it is.

non-manuka honey is getting good prices at the mo. beeks have had profitable business for generations on much much lower honey prices.

if your not making big profit at the mo then your not going to survive for long.

its like dairy prices, if you where not making big profit on the high payout then you will go bust due to the low payout.

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i should add to, don't forget the 1 good year in 3 (or 4) rule. that one good year has to pay 3-4 years expenses.

just thinking about it, 4 years ago we had worse season in 30 years, then we had bad spring but good summer, then we had good spring with ok summer, now we have bad spring fingers crossed for summer. so in last four years we have had one really bad season, two half seasons and one good season. sounds a lot like the 1 good year in 4.

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sounds a lot like the 1 good year in 4.

 

Along with that, I think that a lot of people forget that bees are not like other livestock when it comes to those climatic effects.

 

eg, if you are farming sheep or beef and can't grow sufficient feed, you can use stored feed or buy in feed from other districts. The livestock still grow and fatten, albeit at a cost, and you have a crop of meat to sell.

 

if you are farming bees, yes, you can buy in feed, but you can't grow honey on that feed, so you have added cost but the best you can do during that period is maintain your stock. Yes, talking about honey as the crop instead of bees I know, but the principle remains.

 

The alternative with bees of course if it's a local climatic event is to ship them off to greener pastures in other regions, which given that they'll already be occupied by the locals.. probably not really greener... and then everyone loses.

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Go ahead but try not more than 100(one hundred) hives each of you(3x100). See what happens after the first season. You will see where to be more careful or make a change and where to work harder with your plan. Good luck.

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It would be great if we had a bee breeder here in New Zealand selling packages of bees to the NZ market similar to overseas. At Auckland Beekeepers Club we have over 420 members with new members coming in all the time. Every year in spring we have the same old problem of newbees wanting bees to start a hive and they have to wait for a swarm (unreliable) or buy on Trade Me (costly). Many do not get started and give up. A 2 kg package of bees and a new queen would be ideal and with the number of clubs around NZ, I am sure that you could have a very viable business.! See google on how they do it in USA!

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I offered 2 kg packages for sale once locally, got some enquiries but not one taker. I think because they had no idea the true cost of producing a package in spring.

 

Also I had said to me that a swarm is free, so why does a package cost that much?

 

For beginners, a nuc is better there are so many more things can go wrong if a nubee is trying to set up a package. BTW I do sell nucs but most of them are ordered 6 months or a year in advance. People do ring up and say they would like a nuc can they get it on the weekend, we'll I wish I could help them, but I can't.

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You made 20 nucs? I thought you'd be making thousands of them John!

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I do 99% of my re-queening and dividing in autumn when the weather is more reliable.

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Every year in spring we have the same old problem of newbees wanting bees to start a hive and they have to wait for a swarm (unreliable) or buy on Trade Me (costly). Many do not get started and give up.

 

I would suggest that if they gave up that easily that it may have been for the best. For such people, self-education and proper disease monitoring may also have been put into the too hard basket.

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Agree. If those people wait till autumn they have a good chance of getting bees and at a better price. They may have to feed that's all. But a lot of them who ring me in September wanting a nuc now, when I have a waiting list 6 or more months old, will not wait or place an order for a later date.

 

I believe our society is based more and more on instant gratification, longer term planning which is necessary in agriculture, is an alien concept to some.

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