Careers That Don’t Suck Profile: Bee Rancher

Job Title: Bee Rancher
AKA: Apiarist, Bee Farmer, Bee Rancher

What is it?
A Bee Rancher raises and handles bees used for honey-making and crop pollination.

What does a Bee Rancher do?
A Bee Rancher is just like any other farmer, except that his/her livestock are tiny, winged arthropods (bugs with a hard outer shell, or exoskeleton). The Bee Rancher usually builds or manages apiaries (areas on farms where hive boxes in which bees build their hives and produce honey are kept). The Bee Rancher ensures that the conditions sunlight, food supply, etc. are right in order to encourage the bees to build large, strong colonies.

The bees produce honey from the nectar of flowering plants. The bee Rancher packages and sells the honey. It takes 3 million visits to flowers to create a single pound of honey, and a single hive can produce 100 pounds of honey per year.

In addition to honey production, many bee Ranchers rent the bees pollinating services for profit.

Bee Ranchers usually spend a few hours per week taking care of the hives, ensuring that they are free of mites and pests and don’t become overcrowded. Bee Ranchers also spend time harvesting honey and wax from honeycombs.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The bee Ranchers set up conditions to induce the bees to build strong colonies and hives of a certain size inside of wooden boxes (The boxes allow the bee Rancher to relocate the bees hives to clients farms).
  2. Once at the clients farms, the bees springs into their natural routine, flying from plant to plant for nectar and taking pollen (plant sperm) from plant to plant as they go.
  3. Tada! The clients crops are pollinated and will yield a great harvest.

Traditional farmers, those growing food crops like tomatoes, potatoes and apples, pay bee Ranchers to bring the bees to their farms and to spend a certain period of time pollinating crops. A typical bee Rancher works only a few months out of the year covering the farmers planting season. Some bee Ranchers work year-round, traveling to different parts of the country to pollinate different crops during different planting seasons.

When the bee Ranchers clients are not in planting season, usually during winter months, the bee Rancher will use the time to rest the bees.

Bee Ranchers must negotiate contracts with farmers as to how many hives they’ll bring and for how long. The pricing is generally per hive, plus expenses.

Finally, some Bee Ranchers earn their living removing bees from people’s homes and consulting advising farmers other bee Ranchers or helping farmers ensure they are contracting quality pollination services.

Who might like this job?
People who love:

  • Nature/Plants
  • Bees (and don’t mind a sting or three)
  • Farming (and farmers)
  • Travel (some bee Ranchers travel the country for a great part of the year)
  • Working a few months out of the year

What does this pay?
Most bee Ranchers won’t become millionaires, but it’s possible if you have a large number of bees and a staff to travel to multiple client farms at once.

Bee Ranchers are paid per hive and most specify a minimum number of hives the farmer must utilize in order to ensure that they cover expenses and earn a profit. Per hive rates are currently between $35 and $75 per hive, with an average of six hives being used for 2-3 weeks. Bee Ranchers also negotiate their own travel and lodging expenses (they must stay to manage/care for the bees), and the bees shipping and handling expenses. Bee Ranchers will usually tack on some sort of mileage and fuel charge.

Bee Ranchers also earn a living by harvesting honey and wax from honeycombs. A pound of honey can bring $5-$6.50 per pound.

Most bee Ranchers with a small number of hives that have not pollinated many farms can earn an average of $30,000 per year. Others may earn much more ($50,000-$70,000, up to $1M+ per year) because they own large numbers of proven colonies that produce a large amount of quality honey, and have a large client base (usually commercial farms).

Still others earn a living selling their expertise to budding or failing bee Ranchers and wary farmers.

To break in you’ll need…

  • Lots of knowledge and experience working with bees and/or a Bachelors degree in botany, study of insects, plants
  • Most people will work a planting season or three alongside an experienced bee Rancher to pick up the tricks and sage advice of the trade
  • Those who start early may pick up the skills and knowledge required through participation in high school 4-H or agriculture/agribusiness clubs

So, whom would you work for?
Most bee Ranchers work alone and for themselves. Though, in the case of large operations serving commercial farms, you may be hired as a bee Rancher. Many bee Ranchers also work directly for farmers or for consulting firms that serve farmers. Still others work for nature preserves, universities and research institutions.

To find current openings…
USDA Jobs
UC Berkeley Agriculture Personnel Management Program

What about this career doesn’t suck?
High marks for low stress and time spent communing with nature. Beekeeping also scores highly for eco-friendliness and sustainability (it doesn’t get more au naturale).

Beekeeping loses a few points for low salaries paid by the vast majority of bee Ranchers and few employment benefits (the self-employed struggle to afford healthcare coverage and retirement products).

Employment opportunity in the agricultural sectors is somewhat daunting right now, but beekeeping is pretty healthy right now due to the proliferation of organic and specialty farms, and the trend toward chemical-free farming.

Bee Rancher scores 60% on our WorkYourWay Index.

More Information?
Career Info
San Francisco Beekeeping Association
Beekeepers Online Discussion Group
Online Resource for Beekeepers
Hive House Plans & Diagrams
Articles on Bee Ranching

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