Title: Value of pollination by honey bees
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00078706/00001
 Material Information
Title: Value of pollination by honey bees
Series Title: Value of pollination by honey bees
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Sanford, Malcolm T. (Malcolm Thomas)
Publisher: Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00078706
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltuf - APB0130
alephbibnum - 002878887


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The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source

site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.

Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
of Florida



Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Value of Pollination by Honey Bees1

Malcolm T. Sanford2

There's been a lot of talk over the years about
the value of bee pollination to agriculture. Perhaps
the best reference is what some call the "pollination
Bible," S. E. MacGregor's book, Insect Pollination of
Cultivated Crop Plants, Agricultural Handbook 496,
published in 1976 by the Agricultural Research
Service (ARS) of the United States Department of
Agriculture. Unfortunately, this book is currently out
of print, although it may still be available from some
U.S. Government agencies.

The above volume is the source of the
often-heard quotation that approximately one-third of
the U.S. diet is directly or indirectly dependent on
insect-pollinated plants. Unfortunately, this has been
at best only a vague reference to the actual value of
bees as pollinators, because few numbers were
available to prove the point.

Dr. Marshall D. Levin, former director of the
Carl Hayden Bee Research Center, for a long time
chief bee scientist on the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's National Program Staff, however, has
published some hard facts, backed up by solid
numbers on the honey bee's value to agriculture. Now
bee scientists and beekeepers have something
concrete to point to when asked about the value of
bee pollination to agriculture. The bottom-line figure

is almost 19 billion dollars, or 143 times the total
value of honey and wax produced by bees.

Dr. Levin's figures are derived from analyses of
bee pollination to fruits and nuts, seeds and fiber, and
vegetable seed and animal production indirectly
dependent on bee pollination. Of the 25 or so fruits
and nuts, mentioned, apples and almonds lead the list
with values of 757 and 473 million dollars
respectively, followed by peaches (368), strawberries
(288), cantaloupes (161) and watermelons (149). The
value to citrus is 155 million dollars and to pickles
(processed, 100, fresh, 116). In the seeds and fiber
category, soybeans lead the way, valued at 1.3 billion
dollars. This figure is considered conservative
because only ten percent of potential soybean
pollination is realistic! Sunflowers (410 million
dollars), cotton (se, 57; lint 407) and alfalfa (114),
and finally, vegetable seeds (60) follow in order of

Of the five billion dollars accounted for by crops
resulting from seed requiring bee pollination, alfalfa
hay leads (4.9 billion), followed by onions (346
million) and cabbage and carrots at 175 and 161
million respectively. Cattle and calves are also
considered by Dr. Levin to be indirectly dependent on
bee pollination, because 60 percent of all hay fed to

1. This document is ENY-126, one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: December 1992. Please visit the EDIS Website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Additional
information is available at the Entomology and Nematology Department website located at http://entnemdept.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Malcolm T. Sanford, professor, Entomology and Nematology Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunitylaffirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational
information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.
For information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension Service office. Florida Cooperative
Extension Service/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences/University of Florida/Christine Taylor Waddill, Dean.


Value of Pollination by Honey Bees 2

cattle and dairy herds is alfalfa. A conservative 10
percent potential value of hay fed to cattle and calves
is 5.5 million dollars, while that responsible for liquid
milk production is 1.6 million.

Dr. Levin published his article to show the
relative value of bee pollination to U.S. agriculture
and to communicate to entomologists, public officials
and the general public the "real" value of the
beekeeping industry which at present supplies much
of bee pollination free of charge. As Dr. Levin says,
"Although the total value of crops and commodities
affected by the pollinating activities of bees has
reached an impressive figure on a national basis, the
beekeepers who supply most of this service receive
very little monetary compensation for it. A study
made by the U.S. International Trade Commission
(1976) revealed that, of the total beekeeping incomes
earned by 118 commercial beekeepers in various
states during 1871-1975, the proportion derived from
pollination fees averaged only 9.7 percent." Dr.
Levin's article, "Value of Bee Pollination to United
States Agriculture," was published in the Bulletin of
the Entomological Society of America, Vol. 29 (4),
pp. 50-51, 1984 and reprinted in American Bee
Journal, Vol. 124 (3), 1984, pp. 184-186.

A more recent article provides further evidence
of the potential value of honey bees as pollinator. It's
entitled, "Bee Pollination and Productivity Growth:
The Case of Alfalfa," and was written by A. L.
Olmstead and Donald B. Wooten for the American
Journal of Agricultural Economics, February 1987,
pp. 56-63.

The authors' thesis is that the spread of
commercial pollination has received little attention in
the literature which analyzes the growth of U.S.
agricultural productivity since World War II. This
omission is serious, according to the authors, because
by 1980 over fifty commodities, valued over $5
billion, had become largely dependent on the honey
bee to produce a commercial crop. The focus of the
article is "... to elevate bees from an abstraction in an
arcane literature on externalities to their rightful place
as an essential cog in the growth of U.S. agricultural

Among many important crops like apples,
melons, almonds, plums, prunes, pears, cherries,
berries, pumpkins, squash, the authors say, yield
would drop by over one half if honey bees were used
only at the density associated with efficient honey
production. In addition, honey bees have become
essential to the production of commercial seeds for
most vegetables, grasses and legumes, the value of
which exceeds $10 billion, including broccoli,
cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, lettuce,
onions, clovers, alfalfa and vetches. These specialty
crops, the authors conclude, are even more dependent
on honey bees than are fruits and nuts.

As the title suggests, the growth of the alfalfa
industry in the western U.S. is used as a test case by
the authors to prove their point. The authors claim
that intensive bee pollination was the primary cause
for a regional specialization in alfalfa beginning in
1949 due principally to phenomenally large gains in
yield during the period. The value of the alfalfa
industry is 50 percent greater than cotton, and only
corn, wheat and soybeans are worth more.

A short history of the alfalfa situation reveals
some of the same kinds of issues that beekeepers face
today, and might provide ideas in developing a
pollination service. The fair price for a pollination
colony was guesswork at best. Because beekeeping
was competitive with one of the lowest financial
costs of entry for any type of agricultural enterprise,
and hives could be moved fairly easily, growers only
had to cover a beekeeper's opportunity costs. Many
plans were conceived to compensate beekeepers
ranging from so many dollars per beehive to a set
moving fee plus a percentage of the crop in excess of
some base figure. An innovative Valley Pollination
Service (VPS) was also organized in Kern County,
California specializing in renting hives to alfalfa seed
growers. It not only facilitated contracting in a
developing market, but also guaranteed quality of
colonies and helped beekeepers insure against losses
by spreading the risk of farmer default.

The authors' state in their summary that the
alfalfa case study illustrates a number of propositions
that are a common theme in U.S. agricultural
development. Specifically, these are the importance
of a network of decentralized scientific research

Value of Pollination by Honey Bees 3

stations in conjunction with the land grant college
system which helped develop the methodology and
trained those who become the innovators in the
"Many other crops (besides alfalfa) also experienced
significant growth of output with the introduction of
commercially supplied bees, but as yet we know
relatively little about the timing and extent of these

"Estimating the Economic Value of Honey Bees
(Hymenoptera: Apidae) as Agricultural Pollinators in
the United States," written by E. E. and L. S.
Southwick, Journal of Economic Entomology, Vol.
85, No. 3: pp 621-633, 1992 is another attempt to
establish the real value of honey bee pollination for
society. According to the authors, although
beekeepers know the honey bee has value as a
pollinating insect, the actual numbers are often
obscured by many factors. They also state that about
400 agricultural crops on a worldwide basis and 130
in the U.S. are pollinated by both honey bees (Apis)
and other bees. Perhaps the best estimated value of
bee pollination is by Dr. Marshall Levin, retired
director of the Tucson, Arizona Agricultural
Research Laboratory (discussed elsewhere in this fact
sheet). However, the authors conclude, this work did
not include an estimate of contributions only by
honey bees. More recent studies have estimated that
$10 billion is the correct figure for the honey bee
contribution. In the past, honey bees have also been
credited with pollination done by other bee species.

The authors suggest that it is especially
important to know the value of honey bee pollination
now. That's because populations are likely to be
significantly affected by:

1. Mites that have recently been introduced and are
spreading rapidly.

2. Diseases such as American foulbrood,
chalkbrood and nosema that continue to take
their toll.

3. Northward migration of Africanized bees
directly affecting honey bees managed for
agricultural pollination.

4. Increased use of insecticide, responsible for
honey bee colony losses.

With this in mind, the authors have estimated
demand functions for a long list of crops. They
follow this with an appraisal of the societal value of
honey bees for each. Leading the list are: almond;
apple; cranberry; grape; grapefruit; lemon; orange;
asparagus; broccoli; cantaloupe; honeydew melon;
watermelon; and alfalfa, cotton and soybean seed.
Their summary is that the annual benefit of the honey
bee to U.S. agricultural consumers is on the order of
$1.6-$8.3 billion, depending on whether honey bees
have replaced (low value) or not replaced (high
value) alternative pollinators. The authors further
conclude that more study be applied to: (1) finding
ways to reduce potential losses to the honey bee
industry; and (2) improving management of alternate
native pollinators.

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