Doug Goehring, the agriculture commissioner of North Dakota, said there are concerns about the business of bees in the state. So much so that he has fielded late-night phone calls from landowners concerned about the placement of hives.
“‘Doug, I just want to let you know I’ve got bees right across from me,’” Goehring recalls one McKenzie farmer telling him over the phone at 10:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday.
Placement of beehives and the regulation of out-of-state beekeepers in North Dakota are among the concerns Goehring believes will have farmers, landowners and beekeepers buzzing at the first North Dakota Pollinator Summit, which is being held at 1 p.m. CDT today at the Kelly Inn in Bismarck.
“I think that the beekeepers are going to think I’m taking a shot at them. I’m not,” Goehring said. “I’m trying to address this issue because they are guests here.”
The commissioner, who farms near Menoken, said he has heard issues from throughout the nation’s top honey-producing state regarding the placement of beehives and beekeepers who are not registered with the state. Others, he said, are bringing up issues of new beekeepers who are not educated about the North Dakota state laws that regulate them.
Dean Fetch, the owner of Fetch Honey and Bees in Dickinson, said he has noticed these issues grow in Stark and Hettinger counties in recent years and plans to attend the summit.
“I don’t know what it is, but there has been a lot of them (out-of-state beekeepers) thinking they can do whatever,” Fetch said.
Goehring said problems such as these have come up in the past, but there was a relative harmony until recently, adding that many beekeepers come to North Dakota to rest their colonies after pollinating food crops in California.
“The older beekeepers understand that they’re guests,” Goehring said. “(There are) the younger ones that don’t display as much tact, and maybe act a little like a maverick. You’re going to cause access problems for your entire industry if you make too much noise.”
Goehring’s office went as far as to send out a letter to township officers and landowners telling them to keep an eye on who puts beehives on their land.
Many bees, he said, are being placed too close to major roadways or along section lines farmers use as roads. That, Goehring said, has been the cause of many complaints — especially from motorists.
“Motorcycle riders get pretty upset,” said Bonnie Woodworth, the director at-large and past president of the North Dakota State Beekeepers Association. “Getting stung isn’t fun when you’re on a motorcycle. We tried to contact beekeepers this year and asked them to stay further away from the roads. Some cooperated. Some didn’t.”
Woodworth said there are also issues where out-of-state beekeepers new to North Dakota don’t know, or don’t take the time to find out, who is the landowner of the property where they intend to put their beehives.
“(It is usually) someone either leasing land or giving permission that the landowner is not aware of,” said Woodworth, whose family owns Woodworth Honey and Bee Co. in Halliday. “Then there is the problem with land changing hands.”
Goehring said he wants the state to maintain a good relationship with all beekeepers because bees are an essential part of North Dakota’s agriculture. Bees pollinate crops such as canola, sunflowers and flax, and help increase yield. Hay crops, especially alfalfa, greatly benefit when beehives are present.
“In U.S. agriculture, there is a belief — and it has statistically shown — that bees contribute to 30 percent of agriculture’s ability to produce food,” Goehring said.
Officials said making sure beekeepers stay vigilant of state rules and regulations is of chief importance if North Dakota wants to remain the No. 1 honey-producing state in the U.S.
“We need to encourage beekepers to start following the rules,” he said.