One industry in Puerto Rico is thriving: honey production rose by more than 30% last year, and most years since 2011 have shown increases, for a significant total increase. In 2011, 5,744 gallons of honey were collected, and in 2014, 9,169 gallons were collected. This is in sharp contrast to U.S. honey production, which increased by just 5% in 2013 (the most recent figures from the U.S. Honey Board and USDA). That rise is cheering for U.S. mainland honey producers, given that the honeybee population has been declining for decades and is currently threatened by a variety of mites and diseases.
Like New Zealand’s famed Manuka honey, prized for health and beauty applications, Puerto Rico’s honey has some competitive advantages because it is produced on an island. U.S. mainland honey cannot be certified organic or confidently identified as coming from a particular variety of flowers, because bees can travel outside the boundaries of the farms where their hives are kept. There is no place on the mainland where it would be impossible for bees to reach plants dosed with pesticides.
In Puerto Rico, it is possible to say that a particular colony of bees produces honey primarily from the flowers of mesquite trees.
In addition, Puerto Rico has a strain of bees that is more resistant to mites than other bees: Africanized bees. These bees, in comparison with European and American bees, are more productive and less susceptible to the problems that are threatening bees globally.
Africanized bees reached Puerto Rico in 1994, but by 2012 were showing little of the aggressive nature that has made Africanized bees a problem on the mainland. Known as “Killer bees” on the mainland, this strain of bee is being called the “Gentle Africanized bee” by those who study bees in Puerto Rico.
In October 2013, Rep. Pierluisi announced that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture was funding a variety of projects supporting Puerto Rico’s specialty crops, including $17,609 to build additional beehives suited to the bees of Puerto Rico and $10,452 for Beekeeper Nucleus of Puerto Rico, to support establishment of additional bee colonies. Both of these projects will assist beekeepers in Puerto Rico, while additional projects in the grant will assist in marketing Puerto Rican honey.
While the entire grant totaled over $500,000 of very welcome economic support, it — and particularly the $28,000 for beekeepers — contrasts with the $8,000,000 set aside by the USDA in June of 2014 for five States. These funds will support the declining American honey bee.