Report from Belgrade, Florida, back in April:
Well, three monthly meetings of the Ridge Chapter of the Florida State Beekeepers Association (FSBA) were all attended with great interest.
First was the Holiday potluck meeting where I met everyone with a gift exchange and lots of conversation. These Florida beekeepers are just like Maine beekeepers — friendly, sociable and full of ideas and opinions.
The second meeting was with a citrus exchange cooperative representative on how important the bee industry is to them. He stressed how important the migrant workers are to crop harvest; if there is a significant loss of workers due to proposed legislation, it will hamper the crops of strawberries, citrus and vegetables that are harvested by hand picking. The crop loss could be devastating to the grower and the consumer. Costs would escalate to prohibitive levels. Migrant workers are willing to do the back-breaking work in the fields, while locals who are unemployed often favor entitlement checks even though they could make more money by picking crops. We face the same problem in Maine with our blueberry, apple, potato, and broccoli harvests.
The third meeting was about pollination of citrus and the effects of spring having advanced one month earlier than normal. Migratory pollinator Dave Hackenberg of Lewisburg, PA (and Dade City, FL), was present with his wife; we had an interesting discussion of honeybee movement and queen rearing for spring preparation. The month-early spring in the south required careful monitoring of mites, as they can advance so quickly with spring. I suspect when I get back to Maine, I too will have to do my mite checks and treat before the flow.
I attended the Florida State Fair in Tampa. What a fair it is, lasting eleven full days. The FSBA had a well staffed both with lots of honey, literature and recipes. I had a nice visit with Laurence Cutts who is the former Chief Apiary inspector for Florida (a good friend of Tony Jadczak). He was just inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame. He is the first Florida beekeeper to ever have been given such an honor. It is very obvious and well advertised how intricately Florida apiculture and Florida agriculture support each other with common interests and needs. Citrus is a major crop for the state.
The Florida Farm Bureau supports beekeepers under home rule to keep bees and manage European colonies. Through inspection and developing Best Management Practices (BMP), their goal is to make it harder for Africanized bees to become established. As a whole, Florida beekeepers support the Florida Department of Agriculture Apiary Inspection program. It is essential in order to help beekeepers keep the invasive Africanized honey bee from rapidly expanding its population in Florida. Florida beekeepers also support the work of the Honey Bee Extension and Research Lab at the University of Florida. The Lab is vital to the health of the beekeeping industry both in its extension and research efforts, including the Master Beekeeping Program and Florida’s Bee College. Beekeeping groups are actively assisted by local cooperative extension service offices and county agents working collaboratively with the Research Lab. They are going through budget cuts, but the industry has rallied in defense of the needs of Florida’s 1700-plus registered beekeepers who care for over 270,000 managed colonies. About 150,000 colonies from 26 states, including Maine, are overwintered in Florida. Crop pollination by Florida’s beekeeping industry generates $3.3 billion in annual economic impact. This produces about $192 million in tax revenues. Florida is fourth in the nation in honey production, with 17 million pounds worth $21.7 million annually. These numbers indeed are very impressive; this data was provided by FSBA President Gary Ranker. Florida is now the largest sugar cane producer in the US and also number one in citrus production, producing 79% of the total US crop.
Florida is second in the US in strawberry production (California is first), but 100% of the winter-grown strawberries are from Florida. A not-so-well-known fact is that Florida produces more rock phosphate for fertilizer than any country in the world. About 50% is used in the US and the balance is exported around the world. We all know that phosphorus is a necessary nutrient for plant and animal life and without it we would not survive. So the state of Florida mines this non-renewable resource through sand and clay extractions; by chemical processes, phosphate is produced for fertilizer.
The 3% of available arable land in the world produces food for 7 billion humans. In Florida, like many coastal states, aquaculture is beginning to play a major role as another source of animal protein. And the honeybee still plays a significant role in the pollination of some major crops.