Beekeeping industry is on the rise in Pa., N.J.

Dave Frank, a land-use lawyer and beekeeper, maintains his hives in Pemberton Township. He is pushing for statewide standards to govern beekeeping. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
Dave Frank, a land-use lawyer and beekeeper, maintains his hives in Pemberton Township. He is pushing for statewide standards to govern beekeeping. ED HILLE / Staff Photographer

Amid the buzz, a call for state rules

Posted: July 15, 2014

Dave Frank could see the confusion that might develop if the state didn't step in.

The number of commercial and hobbyist beekeepers and bee colonies had dramatically increased in New Jersey over the last several years, prompting municipalities to begin regulating and even banning operations.

Some beekeepers were taken to municipal courts by neighbors complaining about the bees.

No uniform guidelines existed.

So Frank - a land-use lawyer, Springfield Township Council member, and beekeeper - and others in the New Jersey Beekeepers Association began pushing about a year ago for statewide standards to govern and promote the growing industry.

A package of six bipartisan bills, sponsored by Assemblyman Ron Dancer, a Republican who represents parts of Burlington, Ocean, Middlesex, and Monmouth Counties and who had already been studying the issue, passed the General Assembly late last month. It is expected to be taken up by the Senate in September.

"We will have sound, consistent regulations," said Frank, 50, who rents beehives to farmers for pollination services and sells honey. If municipalities want to oversee honeybee operations, "they will have the tools."

The measures authorize the state to regulate beekeeping, give municipalities a role in enforcement, protect commercial beekeepers from nuisance complaints, and establish a fine of up to $500 for anyone intentionally destroying a native bee hive.

Other bills designate the Common Eastern Bumble Bee as the New Jersey State Native Pollinator, establish a "Pollinator Week" once a year, and urge residents to support New Jersey beekeepers by purchasing their honey.

"The key to a successful agriculture industry in New Jersey is a healthy honeybee industry," said Dancer. "Honeybees are crucial for the pollination of our blueberry, cranberry, pumpkin, squash, strawberry, peach, and apple crops."

In New Jersey, the number of commercial beekeeping farms with annual sales of at least $1,000 increased from 266 in 2007 to 368 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service. The number of hives rose from 10,926 to 13,298 during the same period.

Not included in those figures are hobbyist beekeepers, who are estimated to number more than 3,000. About 5 percent of those are on a "commercial scale," managing at least 20 hives.

In Pennsylvania, the number of beekeeping farms rose from 1,346 in 2007 to 1,529 in 2012, while the number of bee colonies dropped slightly, from 35,979 to 32,023, according to the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Pennsylvania's 1994 Bee Law requires all apiaries in the state to register at a cost of $10 every two years. It also regulates the movement of honeybees, queens, and used equipment, in order to mitigate bee disease, and provides for quarantines when pests, pathogens, or parasites are detected.

But some municipalities in Western Pennsylvania also have begun looking - in the last few years - at possible regulatory action in response to complaints about some hobbyist beekeepers, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

"We don't have any legislation sitting in the wings but we have been studying the issue," said Charlie Vorisek, president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association, which has about 1,000 members. "Municipalities don't like giving up local jurisdiction."

Public attention became more focused on beekeeping in 2006 after worldwide reports of a phenomenon called "colony collapse disorder," in which worker bees abruptly disappear. The cause remains unclear though pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, infections, mites, and genetic factors may play a part, officials say.

"The colony is like an organism," said Frank, owner of Turtle Creek Bees L.L.C., who has 150 hives and helped craft some of the New Jersey legislation. "The workers, drones, and queen form a community of bees, like the cells of the human body."

The shortage of bees in America led to increased costs for farmers who ended up renting them for pollination services. Some beekeepers will provide hundreds of hives to farmers. On the East Coast, each hive rental runs from $65 to $100; on the West Coast, each one can go up to $200.

"People became very interested in the plight of honeybees eight years ago," said Janet Katz, owner of Two Cats Apiary L.L.C., a beekeeping business in Chester Township, Morris County, and president of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, which has 1,000 members across the state. "Many in the general public stopped using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.

"And some took up beekeeping and put hives in their yards, which sometimes caused conflicts with neighbors."

That, in turn, prompted municipalities to begin formulating beekeeping regulations.

"You have 566 municipalities in New Jersey and you could have 566 sets of standards," Dancer said. "That's not in the best interest of the state."

The purpose of the legislation "was to develop a statewide template of regulations that would avoid municipalities' having their own interpretation," said Tom Beaver, research associate for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, a nonprofit advocacy group representing more than 11,000 farmers and other ancillary businesses in the state.

The bills also provide "enhanced protections with the growth of the industry, and predictability in terms of how beekeepers are regulated," Beaver said. "We saw the potential for nuisance complaints and inflexible municipal regulations so we wanted to get out in front of that."

The state Department of Agriculture has already begun crafting the regulations to be followed by all municipalities, Dancer said.

Beekeepers "are just as important to agriculture in the state as the farmers," said Katz, who cares for about 60 hives. "Without the bees to pollinate, the crop yields would be off."

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