To successfully manage any colony…top bar, conventional or something in between, you must become schooled in the art, science and sometimes the politics of the craft of keeping bees. Many levels - individual effort, informal and formal group efforts and actual institutional educational opportunities exist for all beekeepers. And you are never too old to learn or to learn more.
But don’t forget the primary rule… ask five beekeepers how to do something and you will get more, sometimes many more than five answers… most of them will work but some will be better than others, some won’t work at all, but more than one will be correct…correct that is for the beekeeper that gave the answer. It’s up to you to choose which one works best for your style, equipment, time, budget, location and skill level. Like most things in life there’s more than one correct way to accomplish almost any beekeeping task. And, like politics, all beekeeping is local. So how do you find out?
There are books to read, mentors to be found, classes to attend, groups to join, CDs to watch, blogs like this one to read, college courses to take, chat rooms to visit, internet classes to subscribe to, youtube videos to watch, magazines to read, and the guy down the block who may or may not know it all but doesn’t hesitate to tell you how to do it his way. Sometimes it may seem you are alone out there but in reality what you can find can be overwhelming. So where do you begin, and where do you go and who do you turn to for more once you’ve started?
Following are my observations on many of the educational opportunities beekeepers have. I think my information here is pretty unbiased. I’ve been involved with most of the sources we’ll discuss for more than 25 years. I’d like to share information about national, regional and local beekeeping associations, books to read, classes to take, internet opportunities to explore, and more. But not all at once. And, if you’ve been around awhile you have probably found some of these already. It will be interesting to compare notes on how helpful, or not, you find these sources. I’ll start with the National Associations because they are responsible for much of the policy that dictates how beekeeping research is directed and funded, what rules are created and implemented and much of the day to day things that make, and keep beekeeping possible in this country.
There are two National Associations comprised of and for beekeepers. There are several other groups of national scope that are peripheral to keeping bees - scientists, regulatory agencies, marketing groups, apitherapy practitioners and the like. But for beekeepers there’s The American Honey Producers Association, (AHPA) and the American Beekeeping Federation (ABF). The AHPA serves and focuses exclusively on commercial beekeepers in the U.S., those who pollinate crops and make much of the honey in the U.S. Their goal is to protect their interests in honey prices, to monitor honey imports, oversee pesticide laws, keep crop insurance available and simplify labor laws. This is industrial beekeeping at its finest. Membership is strictly limited to commercial beekeepers and dues are hefty – no $10/year for this group. For the most part what they want is good for most beekeepers. They hold an annual meeting where industry, science and government leaders share the latest information. They have several hundred members comprised of many of the 1200 or so commercial beekeepers in the country. Anyone can belong to this group but only commercial beekeepers can vote on policy. They spend a great deal of their efforts protecting U.S. beekeepers from all manner of issues they perceive as problematic.
The other national group, The American Beekeeping Federation (ABF) also has several hundred members, but their numbers come mostly from backyard and sideline beekeepers. However, they have many U. S. commercial beekeepers as members also. In total they have maybe twice the number of members as the AHPA. The commercial beekeepers are not strictly pollinators and honey producers, however, but include many package and queen producers, too. But to muddy the water a bit, among their members are many of the U.S. honey packers. Combined, this is certainly a more diverse collection of the Industrial Beekeeping industry than the AHPA. But when you add in the backyard members what you have is a fairly good cross section of the whole of U.S. beekeeping. This diversity is good, as members are exposed to varying issues not normally encountered, but that same diversity occasionally leads to a diluted focus. Dues are on a sliding scale with backyarders making small contributions and large operations paying far more. The ABF aggressively lobbies for but also provides funding for government and university research for scientists and graduate students. They support a children’s program and a 4-H program also. They have a National Honey Queen marketing program, and provide a permanent staff to organize all of this. They also have an annual meeting with industry, government and science speakers and they provide educational opportunities at their meeting for backyard and sideline beekeepers. The ABF wears many hats, sometimes with a bit of confusion, but always trying to make things better for their members.
Both associations have lobbyists in Washington looking out for their particular interests and currying favor for the industry through the USDA, FDA and other government agencies. For the most part they take care of the big issues for all beekeepers, but tend to favor the commercial side of the industry because that’s where the big money comes from. Not surprisingly, it’s politics as usual, again. As you can imagine, sometimes their particular interests are different and opposing views on some subjects are not uncommon. Still, we are fortunate to have them…most of the time.
Next, we’ll look at the Eastern, Heartland and Western Apicultural Societies…regional groups that have a much different agenda than their national counterparts.