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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Beekeeper Wellbeing: Weather and Working Outdoors

Subjective wellbeing of New Zealand beekeepers was empirically measured for the first time in the 2023 Colony Loss Survey, with the finding that beekeepers’ wellbeing was among the lowest across all primary industries. Data on eight different factors which affect beekeepers was collected, including ‘weather and working outdoors’ which we take a deeper dive into here.

In 2023, of all years, beekeepers could be forgiven for saying the weather put them in a foul mood. Cyclone Gabrielle wreaked havoc on much of the North Island’s east coast, washing away hives and hindering access to many remaining sites, and, for the vast swathes of the country, summer ’22-23 was described by many well-versed beekeepers as the worst honey production season in memory, due to cool temperatures and high rainfall. Despite this, no factor was identified as having more of a positive impact on commercial beekeeper wellbeing than ‘weather and working outdoors’ in the survey.

The preliminary results of the 2023 Colony Loss Survey found life satisfaction of commercial beekeepers to be below that of the dairy industry, sheep and beef, arable, horticulture and forestry, as detailed in Beekeeper Life Satisfaction Worst of Primary Industries. Since then a full and comprehensive report of the complete wellbeing findings of the survey have been published in the international journal Bee World as an open access document, Perspectives on Well-being Among Commercial Beekeepers in New Zealand.

Of survey respondents, 62% were either ‘somewhat positive’ or ‘very positive’ about weather and working outdoors’ impact on their wellbeing. Only 17% fell onto the negative side, with the balance of 21% neutral.

“We think there were at least 21,000 hives lost in Cyclone Gabrielle and people were still recovering in September, when the survey was conducted. So, this was actually a bad year for it,” concludes survey author Pike Stahlmann-Brown, of Landcare Research.

You can’t beat this office, say beekeepers who have reported ‘the weather and working outdoors’ as the primary factor positively impacting wellbeing in their occupation.

Respondents who provided greater context to the topic during the Colony Loss Survey scattered their answers with things like “working outdoors is good for the soul” and “I love a beautiful day working the bees”.

While the feel-good factor is clearly there, the honey was not in 2023, with the Ministry for Primary Industries estimating the national honey crop to be just 12,000 tonnes – more than 50% down on the 12-year average.

“Island weather patterns can be erratic – even in summer – and idyllic conditions may turn poor, eliminating a years’ total nectar flow in a matter of hours. This makes honey production in many parts of New Zealand fickle, both economically and emotionally, which may in turn affect overall beekeeper wellbeing,” the full Perspectives on Wellbeing Among Commercial Beekeepers in New Zealand paper details.

Reports are not exact, but perhaps as many as 21,000 beehives were lost during flooding caused by Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023.

Despite the majority seeing the outdoor conditions as a positive, the minority on the negative side explained their position with comments in the survey such as “lately hives are running low on stores and weather has been bad, so unable to get around them” and “we have just come through the worst season, weather-wise, that I have experienced in my nine-year beekeeping career”.

Despite a lot of uncooperative weather to productive beekeeping – or just keeping bees alive – the mood is positive though and overall a pragmatic mood emanates from Survey respondents.

“Well, it just is what it is... we are in an industry that just needs to get on with the job, weather is a constant challenge, but very normal,” one beekeeper in the ‘neither positive or negative’ category stated.

Perhaps the best example of the ability of beekeepers to forgive weather setbacks and embrace working outdoors was a survey respondent who was still “somewhat positive” despite claiming Cyclone Gabrielle had destroyed huge amounts of their hives.

It wasn’t just beehives, but also beekeeper’s buildings damaged during Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023, including this silt-laden Coromandel facility.

“After an extremely wet 12-plus months, and a cyclone claiming nearly 1000 hives, we are now in spring with warmer dryer weather starting which will hopefully result in a better production season.”

If more than three-quarters of beekeepers can say the weather and outdoors does not affect them negatively in a season where climatic conditions were not favourable, for the most part, it surely bodes well for more sunny days for beekeepers around the corner.


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