What’s the buzz on North Dakota honey? The state is the nation’s top producer of tabletop honey, producing more than 36.3 million pounds of the sticky-sweet stuff in 2015, valued at over $65 million. The number of beekeepers in the state has increased as well, from 182 in 2010 to 264 in 2015.
“We’ve doubled our colony counts due to the influence of canola. There’s quite a bit in the north-central part of the state,” says Will Nissen, beekeeper of Five Star Honey Farms and president of the North Dakota Beekeepers Association. Nissen began beekeeping in 1978, and currently runs about 12,000 colonies in North Dakota and other states. He established Five Star in 1998 and currently operates with his wife, Peggy, and three sons, Matt, Levi and Evan. The average beekeeper in North Dakota manages between 1,000 and 1,500 colonies.
But while the honey flow is sweet, honey bees are also important to North Dakota’s agricultural economy, as they pollinate close to $15 billion in crops annually. In fact, North Dakota bees often travel to California in the winter to help pollinate crops there as well.
“We pollinate in California from January through March, and then come back to North Dakota to rebuild strong hives,” Nissen says. “Pollination is very hard on bees, and while we’re building them back up, we also make honey.”
If not for North Dakota honey bees, crops across the Western U.S. could not thrive, but the pollination also helps beekeepers make extra income in the winter.
North Dakota’s climate and geography, with vast open plains and National Grasslands support yellow clover, helping to produce delicious honey. To help keep bees safe and reduce opportunity of colony collapse, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture inspects hive locations for registered beekeepers in the state, looking for pests and diseases.
Honey not only tastes good, but it’s good for you, too. Honey naturally contains a variety of antioxidants, thought to protect against cancers and other diseases, as well as small amounts of vitamins and minerals. Consumers can eat local honey to help with seasonal allergies as well as for a boost of all-natural energy. Nissen says that a spoonful a day is thought to help with digestion, and eating honey before bedtime may help you sleep better.