Beekeeper says adulterated honey is a factor in plummeting production

Drought, pesticide use and habitat loss are also problems

By: - March 20, 2023 3:08 pm
Bees gather on the corner of a hive body box at Adee Honey Farms in Bruce, South Dakota. The farm is one of the largest beekeeping operations in the nation. (Courtesy of Adee Honey Farms)

Bees gather on the corner of a hive body box at Adee Honey Farms in Bruce, South Dakota. The farm is one of the largest beekeeping operations in the nation. (Courtesy of Adee Honey Farms)

One of the nation’s largest independent honey producers says adulterated products deserve some of the blame for new numbers that reveal a 41 percent drop in South Dakota honey production.

It’s the third straight year of declining production in the state, and the 7.2 million pounds produced last year is South Dakota’s lowest value in records dating to 1987. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the 2022 numbers on Friday.

Beekeeper Bret Adee, with Adee Honey Farms in Bruce, said drought, pesticide use and habitat loss are all factors. And he said another major culprit is adulterated honey.

“It’s a trend brought on by economics,” Adee said. “The biggest economic factor is we’re having to compete with ‘synthetic,’ or what you would call ‘adulterated’ honey, and it’s not really honey.”

Adulterated honey is diluted with other ingredients, such as corn syrup or rice sugar. Some brands even contain chemically modified sugars, which make the product look like genuine honey when it’s not.

Because adulterated honey is cheaper to produce, those companies can charge a cheaper price at the grocery store – outcompeting genuine honey.  

Distinguishing real honey from adulterated honey in the grocery store is difficult, according to Jonathan Lundgren, of Brookings, whose Blue Dasher Farm produces honey. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says honey products that include additional ingredients must list those ingredients on the label. But some honey producers allege there are adulterated products labeled as pure honey.

Lundgren said the best thing a consumer can do is buy locally produced honey from a trusted beekeeper.

“Good news is, there are a lot of them in the state,” Lundgren said.

There were 185,000 honey-producing colonies in South Dakota in 2022, down from a high of about 290,000 in 2015. 

The average yield in the state last year was 39 pounds of honey per colony, down 10 pounds from 2021. 

The total value of honey produced in South Dakota in 2022 was $18.6 million, down 37% from 2021. The state ranked sixth for honey production in 2022. 

The sharply declining numbers in South Dakota contrast with less severe trends nationally. 

United States honey production in 2022 totaled 125 million pounds, down 1 percent from 2021. There were 2.67 million U.S. colonies producing honey in 2022, which was also down 1 percent.

Adee said the adulteration of honey is not only harming beekeepers’ livelihoods but is also hurting farmers’ crop yields and deceiving consumers.

“The numbers consistently run from 12 to 40% higher soybean yields if you have bees on the ground,” Adee said. “It’s incidental pollination, and it’s why it’s so valuable to have bees out there. But you can’t do it if you’re competing with fake stuff made from rice sugar.”

Adee said the practice of adulterating honey is not new, and beekeepers have been raising concerns about it for years. He hopes this year’s significant decline in production brings the issue to the forefront.

“We don’t have very good enforcement of our food laws,” he said.

Adee wants to see the government do more to inform consumers and protect beekeepers that produce genuine honey.  

Adee said pesticides and habitat loss also affect honey production; in fact, he was featured in a 2017 New York Times article that dove into that issue. Pesticides are harmful to bees, affecting their immune systems, and making them more susceptible to disease and other environmental factors. Bees also rely on a diverse range of flowering plants to gather nectar and pollen, but with increased urbanization and large-scale crop farming, the natural habitats of bees are diminishing.




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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.