There’s nothing sweeter than when farmers and beekeepers work together. Just ask Tim Olsen. Tim grew up on a farm in Minnesota, leads the South Dakota Ag in the Classroom program and started beekeeping as a way to reconnect with his agricultural roots. In the last eight years, he’s grown his operation, Laughing Eyes Apiary, to about 25 colonies.
Tim’s bees are mostly located on farms near his home in Luverne, just over the Minnesota-South Dakota border. To show his appreciation for farmers, he even partnered with Hungry for Truth, providing jars of honey for the gift bags at the Farm-to-Fork dinner in 2017.
“I have wonderful working relationships with my farmer partners,” Tim said. “I understand they need to spray their soybeans to protect against aphids. My farmer partners will call me when they’re planning to spray their fields, so I can come out in the early morning to lock my colonies down and protect the bees. They’ve also planted pollinator-friendly plants in areas of their farm.”
Bees pollinate plants, playing a crucial role in our environment. Soybeans are a self-pollinating plant, meaning they don’t rely on insects to help them reproduce. However, data show that soybeans may experience a yield boost of up to 18 percent when exposed to honey bees and native pollinators.
Many farmers choose to use integrated pest management (IPM) principles to protect these pollinators. IPM programs focus on pest prevention and reducing excessive use of pesticides. Along with GMO seeds and precision agriculture, IPM programs are one more tool farmers can use to grow safe and healthy food sustainably. For farmers, sustainability means doing what’s right for the environment and continuously improving the land and water for future generations.
Tim partners with farmers in another way, too. He sells his honey to a local farm that puts it in their community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes. CSA shareholders pledge an amount of money at the beginning of a growing season and receive fresh produce and other goodies throughout the season. It’s one of the ways he can connect with consumers and spread the word about local honey.
“Many people don’t realize that beekeeping is a livestock enterprise. I’m responsible for taking care of my bees and making sure they have access to nectar and pollen,” Tim said. “Just like a crop farmer, we’re driven by weather. When it rains and there are multiple nectar sources, we have great yields of honey. When it’s dry, we don’t produce as much.”
If you want to create a pollinator-friendly garden, one of the best things you can do is grow flowering plants that give them the nectar they crave. Good examples of these are sunflowers, lavender or fennel. Ready to make a bigger investment? Try a flowering tree, like a red maple or linden.
“A flowering tree can produce as much honey as an entire field of flowers,” said Tim. “Search for a tree species that blooms in late March or early April to help get the season started.”
Another thing you can do to encourage beekeepers? “Buy local honey!” said Tim, with a laugh. Check out your local farmers market for honey made from bees near you. You might even get the chance to talk to a beekeeper like Tim or another South Dakota farmer who grows the food we enjoy.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.