Ten years ago, California led the country in honey production. That is unsurprising, considering that the Golden State produces nearly half of all U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables; almost all of the country’s almonds, apricots, olives, pistachios and walnuts; and most of its avocados, lemons, peaches and strawberries. California’s bountiful crops were once enjoyed by its most bountiful pollinators, honeybees, and the fruits of that natural partnership were to be found in its several million annual pounds of honey.
But as California’s record-breaking drought has grown from extreme to “exceptional” (the U.S. Drought Monitor’s highest drought rating), fewer native plants have received rainfall and fewer crops are being planted by farmers.
“Our honey crop is severely impacted by the drought, and it does impact our bottom line as a business,” says Gene Brandi, a beekeeper in California’s Central Valley.
But the problem is not only a lack of water. A bee crisis has erupted throughout the nation. The exact reason for honeybee die offs is still uncertain, but pesticides, parasites and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have all factored into it.
According to Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, CCD has affected “approximately 30 percent or more of [his] colonies each year.” This problem has affected about 25 percent of domestic beekeepers.
In 2010, California was producing about 27.5 million pounds of honey. In 2013, that shrank to 10.9 million pounds. This year’s harvest is yet unknown, but it is estimated to be even smaller.
The honey deficit has led to a rise in honey prices, from an average $3.83 to $6.32 per pound. Earlier this year the FDA issued a warning to manufacturers that they are not allowed to add sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners to their products to save money, unless they’re willing to forego labeling them “honey.”