5 Facts that Explain why Beekeeping Is Important

5 Facts that Explain why Beekeeping Is Important

Your role as a hobbyist beekeeper probably affords you plenty of opportunity to talk to people about what you do. Explaining beekeeping is probably something you love almost as much as beekeeping itself. So when someone asks you why beekeeping is so important, you are more than happy to lend your expertise.

For the most part, the majority of people understand the importance of bees instinctively. Honeybees are part of nature that we innately know, if lost, would leave an ecological hole unable to be filled by any other species. But many people want to know concrete reasons above and beyond what instinct tells them. That’s good. The more people want to know about beekeeping, the more beekeepers like yourself are able to educate them about the importance of these valuable insects.

The best way to explain why beekeeping is so important is to present you with a number of facts about bees and beekeeping.

Fact #1: Bees Are Pollinators

Every creature in nature has at least one primary function that contributes to a balanced ecosystem. In the case of honeybees, they contribute mainly as pollinators. What is a pollinator? It is a creature that carries pollen from one plant to the next. Pollinators are critical to the existence of plant life.

To understand how this works, consider almond trees. Before almond trees can produce nuts, their flowers must be pollinated within a two-week span at the start of the growing season. Every flower that is properly pollinated will go on to produce a nut.

Nature has devised numerous ways of accomplishing pollination. But honeybees are by far the best pollinators. They go out into an almond orchard in search of food they can bring back to the hive. They fly from flower to flower, grabbing pollen and packing it into highly compressed balls. Every time they land on a new flower, some of what they have accumulated falls into the flower’s reproductive tract.

That simple act is what allows the almond flower to germinate and grow. If no pollen reaches the reproductive tract of a given flower, it does not germinate. If it doesn’t germinate, it doesn’t produce a nut.

So just how important are bees to pollination? Conservative estimates suggest that honeybees are responsible for pollinating more than 30% of the crops human beings grow for our own consumption. Just think about that for one second.

There are other pollinators including bats, butterflies, beetles, and so forth. Even the wind manages to carry pollen back and forth to some degree. But when you combine all those other pollinators together, they only account for two-thirds of what nature requires. The mighty honeybee accounts for the other third by itself. That makes bees the heavy hitters in the pollination world. Bees are critical to feeding humanity.

Fact #2: Agriculture Relies on Bees

The second fact is that our agriculture relies on bees being successful pollinators. And when I say agriculture, I am including both raising crops and animal husbandry. The valuable service bees provide to local ecosystems make it possible for farms and cattle operations to succeed. Without the bees, farms would suffer.

According to the Ulster Beekeepers Association in Northern Ireland, no fewer than 39 commercial crops in that part of the world are reliant on bee pollination. In addition, bees pollinate clover and alfalfa. Those two crops are used to feed cattle and other farm animals. A lack of clover and alfalfa would make it more difficult to raise both beef and dairy cattle.

Many beekeepers know firsthand how much farmers rely on bees. In fact, it is not uncommon for many to get requests from local farmers to rent their hives during spring. They know that placing hives on their property will help pollination efforts and lead to more abundant crops in the fall. And make no mistake, there are many beekeepers that do this.

There are professional beekeepers practicing what is known as migratory beekeeping. Their operations are much bigger than the typical hobbyist. Rather than remaining stationary, they move their hives from one location to the next as they follow pollination patterns and the honey flow.

I previously mentioned the almond tree. Central California almond orchards produce the majority of almonds sold around the world. Their trees contain more than 1 trillion flowers responsible for producing billions of nuts annually. Interestingly enough, the pollination window for almond flowers is a mere two weeks. Without an adequate supply of bees in those orchards, flowers would never produce enough nuts to meet demand.

You can bet those almond farmers are very fond of bees and beekeepers. Without them, the farmers’ livelihood would be adversely affected.

Fact #3: Native Bees No Longer Thriving

The honeybees that do most of the pollination work around the world are actually European bees. For some reason, European bees are much better at adapting to a variety of environments. That’s good because native bee populations in many parts of the world are no longer thriving.

No one knows for sure why, but an article I read a few years ago suggested that one of the issues native bees are running into is the prevalence of human agriculture. Prior to the large-scale agriculture we now practice, large tracts of land in many parts of the world were incredibly bio diverse. Native bee populations thrived in those diverse environments.

Because modern farming techniques frown on biodiversity, farmland offers a much smaller variety of crops. This is a double-edged sword for native bee populations. Not only is there less biodiversity available on active farmlands but clearing wild areas to create new farmlands further reduces the biodiversity of the region.

It is believed that the reduced biodiversity in many parts of the world is harming native bee populations by reducing the kind of nourishment those bees need. If true, it is unfortunate. But there are projects ongoing in many parts of the world looking for ways to restore native bee populations. In the meantime, we can at least take comfort in knowing that European bees seem to do well in almost any environment.

Fact #4: Bee Populations Are Declining

If you are involved in beekeeping as a hobby, you might make a point of keeping up with beekeeping news. One thing you may have noticed in the last 5 to 10 years is an alarming increase in the number of stories detailing how bee populations, in general, are declining all over the world.

For example, a March 2018 article from Bees for Business detailed a study done among British beekeepers a couple of years beforehand. According to that study, estimates suggest there were some 1 million beehives in the UK in 1900. There were just 270,000 in 2015. That is a loss of nearly 75%.

The article does not say if the numbers apply only to beehives in nature or if they also include hives kept by beekeepers. Regardless though, a loss of 75% is devastating. If nothing else, beekeeping is important if we hope to rebuild bee populations to what they were at the start of the 20th century.

So what has caused the decline? Scientists have been asking that for some time now. Unfortunately, no single cause has been found. I say ‘unfortunately’ because finding a single cause would make for easy correction. But the fact is there are multiple factors contributing to bee population decline.

The first cause is something I previously mentioned: a lack of biodiversity in some areas. A second cause is disease. Just like humans are subject to more diseases today than we were in times past, so is the rest of nature. Disease is part of the evolution of our planet. Unfortunately for bees, they do not have scientists and doctors in their midst. It is up to beekeepers to protect colonies from those diseases that could kill them.

Fact #5: Beekeeping Is Declining

Another contributing factor in the decline of bee populations is the decline of beekeeping as an occupation. Look, beekeeping has been practiced for thousands of years. It is no different than growing crops or raising cattle. The problem we have in beekeeping is that it is not something that can be done on an industrial scale.

Humanity has been very creative in turning single-farm agriculture into a large-scale, industrial enterprise. Some of the biggest farms in the world cover thousands of acres and produce millions of tons of food in a single season. We have managed to do the same thing with beef and dairy cattle. Industrial operations manage tens of thousands of animals with the help of automation and computerized equipment. You cannot do that with bees.

At the end of the day, beekeeping is extremely labor-intensive. And because bee populations are so delicate, it is very difficult for beekeepers to maintain extremely large operations on the same scale as an industrial farm. It just doesn’t work. Most beekeeping operations are small enough to manage with just a handful of people. And forget about automation. There really is nothing about beekeeping that can be turned over to machines.

I say all that to say this: Bees for Business says that the average age of a beekeeper in the UK is 63. That should tell you something. It tells me that the number of young people taking up beekeeping as an occupation is inadequately low. Just like in trucking, there are not enough young people taking up beekeeping to replace those who are retiring and passing on.

It is going to be very difficult for us to increase the number of beehives – both managed and in the wild – if we cannot manage to encourage more young people to start keeping bees. Even keeping bees as a hobby is better than not keeping them at all. But we also need more full-time beekeepers as well.


I hope you now have a better understanding of why beekeeping is so important. Bees are valuable participants in the natural world that we truly cannot afford to live without. This, despite the fact that so many people are unnecessarily afraid of these wonderful and helpful insects.

Hopefully, your love for bees will be passed on to multiple generations that follow after you. It would be wonderful for you to approach the sunset of your life knowing that others have taken up beekeeping because they were inspired by your efforts.