Where Are the Bees Traveling Today?

pollinator map
The specialty nut, fruit and vegetable crops that bees pollinate tend to be in coastal and border states, so many bees travel back and forth across the country. Information for this map and story was accessed from a USDA Economic Research Service report, September 26, 2014, Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook: Economic Insight.
Bees are packing up and hitting the road in search of warmer weather. From mid-October through mid-February, commercial beekeepers must take their honey bees to a warm climate if they will be using the bees to pollinate early-season blooms, such as February almond blooms in California. Otherwise, honey bees will take a cue from the chill in the air to spend the winter huddled in their hives.

Commercially managed honey bees are big business in the United States, $655.6 million in 2012. As their primary use has shifted from making honey to pollination services, these bees follow a migratory pattern according to what’s in bloom for crops that benefit from or require insect pollination. Although we often think of crops according to their planting and harvesting times, commercial honey bees’ patterns follow the blooms as colonies are transported throughout different growing seasons.

There are several traffic patterns across the country that commercial honey bees travel. California’s almond blooms are the most massive stop and mark the greatest pollination event in the world with more than 1.6 million commercial honey bee hives, or 60 to 75 percent of all U.S. commercial hives.

Almond pollination accounts for 45 percent of total fees that commercial beekeepers collect, followed by sunflowers at 17 percent. Almonds, sunflowers, canola, grapes, apples, sweet cherries, watermelons, dried prunes, cultivated blueberries and avocados account for 96 percent of all U.S. pollination fees.  

Other than California, top honey bee destinations for pollination are Washington (apples, blueberries and raspberries), North Dakota (canola), South Dakota (sunflowers), and Florida (blueberries, melons, cucumbers and citrus).

After the almond bloom, some beekeepers take their honey bees to cherry, plum and avocado orchards  in California and apple, blueberry and cherry orchards in Washington. In May, some beekeepers take their hives to visit squash in Texas, cranberries in Wisconsin and blueberries in Michigan.

Many commercial hives travel up and down the east coast for the spring and summer to pollinate blueberries in Maine, cranberries in Massachusetts, clementines and tangerines in Florida, and other fruits and vegetables.

Sixty-five to 80 percent of commercial hives spend part of the summer in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota feeding on the alfalfa, clover, sunflowers and canola.

Fall harvest brings apples, pears, peaches, pumpkins, squash, gourds, zucchini and more that honey bees helped to pollinate. Although many insects such as bumble bees, solitary bees, squash bees and hover flies pollinate these crops, none work harder than honey bees. Through their pollination services, honey bees support the cultivation of approximately 90-130 crops from alfalfa to zucchini.

Note: For information on Bayer's demonstration hive that is getting ready for winter in North Carolina, check our latest update on "Live From the Hive."

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