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Beekeepers Stung by Week’s Frost

June 8, 1998

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) _ In 20 years as a beekeeper, Larry Ballantyne has experienced droughts, poor honey prices and grasshoppers that wiped out his crops.

But the Westhope, N.D., farmer has never been stung so bad as last week, when temperatures plummeted and plants froze, costing him tens of thousands of dollars.

The freezing temperatures killed about 75 percent of the alfalfa that Ballantyne’s bees pollinate. The frost was worst in the northern part of the state, but beekeepers statewide are feeling the effects of the early-June cold snap.

``It’s burnt so bad with frost,″ Ballantyne said. ``There just isn’t anything left.″

``They can’t get out and make any honey. They haven’t made any honey the last five or six days,″ said Everett Kehm, a beekeeper in Sawyer.

North Dakota provides 13 percent of the nation’s honey, the second-largest amount in the country. The nectar from alfalfa and sweet clover produces a light-colored honey which is among the nation’s best.

But when alfalfa is frozen, and clover is scarce, beekeepers turn to canola and other crops to feed their bees. Ballantyne said without canola, his beehives would face threat of destruction.

``I’d be completely done. I probably would have to gas my hives off because I wouldn’t be able to feed them all summer. Really, that’s how bad it is,″ he said.

Many farmers say it is too early to put a dollar amount on what they have lost because of the frost. Ballantyne has come up with a conservative estimate.

``I would say this is going to cost me probably $50,000 on honey production, at least. That’s the low end of it,″ said Ballantyne, who has about 640 hives. ``It might be my last year. We’ll have to see.″

The cold snap has forced many beekeepers to take up alternative feeding methods. Some beekeepers feed bees corn syrup when they run out of food, which keeps the bees busy producing honey. For some beekeepers, the cold temperatures mean more time on the road to find crops for their bees.

``I bet I’ll spend half the summer jockeying the bees from one spot to another,″ said Jesse Gifford, a beekeeper in Morton County, who estimates he traveled 40,000 miles with his bees last summer.

The state’s bee inspector, Judy Carlson, said she tries to help beekeepers who are hurt by weather, and shows them maps pointing out the areas with the least damage. She said the frost was bad in the northern part of the state, but less severe in other areas.

``I think as far as we can tell right now, it doesn’t sound like frost was widespread and that some crops may bounce back,″ she said.

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