Florida is home to some of the finest honey produced on planet earth. There’s no doubt this sweet delight is a major commodity for the state, but the benefits of the honey bee stretch much further.

Florida ranks third behind the Dakotas in yearly honey production, with an estimated $23 million in farm gate value. Florida has approximately 4,000 registered beekeepers managing roughly 500,000 honey bee colonies. Beyond honey sales, beekeepers also have the potential to profit from pollination services. There is approximately $650 million spent on contracted pollination services for crops in the U.S. each year. A significant portion of that money is actually generated as a “secondary income” from honey production.

Honey bee on an orange blossom

Honey bee on an orange blossom.  Photo: UF Honey Bee Research and Extension Laboratory

Here in Florida, the major need for pollination is in fruit and vegetable production. To be more specific, cucurbits (watermelon, squash), blueberries, citrus, and numerous other fruits benefit from bee pollination. Utilizing honey bees to pollinate crops is often seen as insurance for viable vegetable crop production. Unfavorable weather during pollination often results in lower yields. The presence of honey bees can greatly curb the threat of this scenario.

For a beekeeper to prosper in providing a pollination service, the grower must understand how the honey bee brings value to the farming operation. The producer must see it as a best management practice. Conversely, the beekeeper must also understand the needs of the producer’s crop beyond pollination. In the end, the key to a prospering pollination service is proper promotion, honest and clear communication, quality service and a written contract.

For more information, contact your local county extension office.

Supporting information for this article and a sample agreement for the beekeeper and grower can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Sample Pollination Agreement” by Malcolm T. Sanford, Jeanette Klopchin, and James D. Ellis: . The sample agreement is adapted from information found in the USDA Agriculture Handbook 496 and from “Crop Pollination by Bees” by Delaplane and Mayer.

A primary concern of beekeepers when involved in contracting their bees for pollination service is the use of pesticides by the producer. Complimentary to this document is the UF/IFAS EDIS document: “Minimizing Honey Bee Exposure to Pesticides” by James D. Ellis, et al.