Sterling beekeeper shares concerns of honey harvest due to drought

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Most people know North Dakota tops the rankings when it comes to oil production, but you may not know that our state is the No. 1 honey producer in the nation.

This year’s drought could negatively impact the state’s honey production.

We spoke to one beekeeper about the industry and how this season could be affected.

“Good girls — whoo. That’s heavy,” said Rocco Byren, while lifting a beehive.

Byren takes care of his 24 beehives in Sterling.

His two dozen hives are just a small chunk of the roughly 720,000 registered in the state.

It’s his first year working with the pollinators in the U.S. Before that, Byren learned from a commercial beekeeper while in boarding school in South Africa.

“I had a dream of coming to the states to come and do commercial beekeeping, but the ultimate dream was to do my own beekeeping, so I’m small now with 24 hives but I’ll get there,” he said.

Once a week Byren checks out the hives, each one buzzing with about 60,000 bees that work all summer to make honey.

June and July is prime honey season in North Dakota. It’ll be harvested in August, and the bees will be sent to California by October.

But this year’s drought has caused some concern for Byren and his fellow beekeepers.

“I’ve had to feed a lot more corn syrup this year. Some of the guys are bringing in bees later, they’re keeping them in California for longer, feeding them down there,” Byren said.

He says the mood among others in the field is mixed.

“Some guys are worried, some guys are like ‘Ahh, we’ll make money.’ Kinda gotta make our money somehow,” he said.

Each of his 24 hives is expected to produce about 50 pounds of honey.

After that, Byren hopes to sell his product locally at farmers markets or through Facebook. That is, if the harvest this year pans out.

“We medicate you, we look after you, just give us some rent money back. Make us some honey somehow,” he said.

Byren says depending on how this year goes, he hopes to get more hives next season.

In 2020, North Dakota bees produced 38.6 million pounds of honey valued at over $61 million, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

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