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Karl Kehrle (Brother Adam) used to say that there are three goals for practicing beekeeping:
- Economical, to generate revenue
- Scientific, meaning progress through research
- As a sport, when it is nothing more than a hobby.
It is pretty obvious that the first two are followed by professionals, while la last one is practiced by amateur beekeepers.
Beekeeping is mostly practiced as a means to generate profit. And we shouldn’t be afraid to say it as it is absolutely normal to be interested in the business part of beekeeping. Unfortunately, the (old) mentality that striving for profit in beekeeping is something bad or to be ashamed of was one of the main reasons that prevented many beekeepers (at least in Romania) from really becoming professional. After several visits and experiences abroad, we noticed that the percentage of professional beekeepers is much higher than it is in Romania. There are many farms with more than 500 colonies, organized in accordance to solid economical principles. Moreover, in Australia And North America (USA and Canada), countries with top quality beekeeping, it is often said that the most important tool for a beekeeper is the computer. There training programs specifically designed for beekeepers that encompass the economical principles on which their business should be based.
As we mentioned previously, a flawed mentality, alongside poor access to quality, science based information, as well as economical, have led to a very small number of large farms in Romania. How can anyone be able to take care of 600 colonies without an excellent training? And if someone is willing to take part in such a training, there really isn’t one available. These are issues that represent very serious deficiencies in the Romanian beekeeping system. While mentality part is rather difficult to change, we can definitely share some very useful tips with regards to the economical/financial side of beekeeping. By occupying a management position in a large pharmaceutical company, I was also able to understand how to organize a business. The principles are the same, even though the specifics are different.
Most likely there are some beekeepers among our readers that already do this. It’s obvious that when you practice beekeeping at a professional level, it is the only source of income, and thus a failure has much more serious consequences than for an amateur beekeeper. On the other side, by performing this activity professionally, there are great opportunities for generating good income; beekeeping has great profitability when done right.
If you have never made an income/expenses calculation, regardless if you’re a professional or an amateur beekeeper, you’re definitely missing out on many things. In the first case you risk to work hard and the results will be below your expectations and you can’t even fix this in the next year; as an amateur you risk the opportunity to become a professional in a domain that you’re passionate about and one that has great economical potential. It is beyond understanding why someone who loves beekeeping won’t make the step towards professionalism, but prefers to continue to work in other domains that are not fulfilling (both financially and professionally). Sooner or later beekeeping will join the other branches of agriculture where the big farms will poses most of the bee colonies. I am definitely not under-appreciate the amateur beekeepers, it is clear that they are driven by passion. I am only trying to present a possibility. A possibility to get the both of best worlds. This is an ideal situation, as only the most lucky ones get to make a living by doing what they love.
The most basic economical notion that any beekeeper needs to be familiar with is the budget. Developing a budget means having a clear image over the feasibility of your beekeeping activity. What does a budget mean? Nothing complicated, actually. There are two major components of a budget: income and expenses. The difference between them is the profit. Each of these two components is made out of various categories as you can see in the screenshot below taken from our in-house developed budget app:
Also, it is very important that the income and expenses to be expanded per colony, not just as a total. For each colony we should have a clear image of the income generated and expenses. This way we can clearly see which colony is profitable and which is costing us money and doesn’t justify the food, treatment and other investments. Of course, I am not talking about small swarms that will need investments and will become profitable only in the following year. And even in the case of larger colonies, changing just the queen will suffice.
When carrying out a professional activity, one that generates income, there is absolutely no logical reason to keep the entities that cost you more than they produce and operate with losses. They are only diminishing the profit generated by the other colonies; just by eliminating the bad ones your are increasing your profit.
Another benefit of having a budget is that you can more carefully plan the expenses depending on your cash-flow at a given time. Given the fact that beekeeping is a seasonal activity, it is extremely important to have a cash-flow availability calendar. The income is mostly generated during 3 month period over the year and the lack of a detailed expense plan, correlated to your strategy (food, treatments, various investments, acquisitions etc) can produce a serious unbalance. Moreover, the price of various products in the beekeeping industry vary throughout the year. Sugar patties for example are cheaper during Autumn and more expensive in the Spring.
Hopefully the above mentioned arguments have given you a clear understanding over the importance of a budget when it comes to beekeeping and we simply cannot talk about professionalism without taking into account profitability and feasibility.