Saturday, March 5, 2011

It's Only Money

The other day, I stumbled across a couple of A.I. Root catalogs from the 1950's that a friend gave to me a few years ago. Since I just dropped a small fortune in beekeeping stuff from a couple of different suppliers, I thought I'd flip through the old catalogs and do some comparisons to see how prices stack up vs. today.

"This is way more neato than a hula hoop! Thanks mom and dad!!

"Hey Beave. How about taking those gloves off and fetching dear old dad a scotch..."

I decided to make a short list of items from the 1957 catalog that are still used today, adjust those prices for inflation, then compare to today to see if the cost of beekeeping had outpaced or lagged inflation. For my inflation figures, I used the CPI Inflation Calculator comparing 1957 to 2011 (2010 data). For the current suppliers, I used Brushy Mountain Bee Farm, Walter T Kelley Company, and Rossman Apiaries as well as current rates for Bee Culture magazine which is still published by A.I. Root. The results were interesting.

Click to enlarge

The data shows that prices for package bees and queens have outpaced inflation while the basic equipment for beekeeping has lagged inflation. Sad, but not surprising, shipping for package bees has not only outpaced inflation , but has realized the highest percentage increase of all items tested...yeah, go figure. 

So bees cost more and equipment costs less, but why? Price elasticity aside, my first instinct is to say that modern manufacturing technology has resulted in a lower cost for producing wooden ware such as frames and hive bodies. As a result, I'd give technology a pat on the back for going easy on my pocketbook. On the other hand, it's more expensive to buy the little critters than it should be. I suppose it could diseases and pests that weren't around in 1957, supply/demand, higher cost for land, insurance, or maybe raising bees to sell is just more profitable than it used to be. And why is shipping so high? US Postal Service rate hikes, or shippers like UPS beginning to handle bees maybe?

Inflationary trends aside, getting into beekeeping is probably no more cost prohibitive today than it was in the 1950's. And if you have some common tools and skills, you can construct a lot of your own equipment, offsetting some of your cost. Can't do that with scuba diving, bungee jumping, or reloading me. Further, once you get up and running, you can sell a portion of your harvest; particularly to those with allergies and health conscious folks who are seemingly always searching for a source of raw local honey.

But the sweet stuff aside, the calming effect that observing these fascinating little creatures has is worth a few bucks if you ask me. Whether you're crouched to the side watching workers returning with sacks full of pollen, or standing in the hot summer sun carefully scanning a frame full of scurrying bees, it's a state of relaxation that's right up there with a Pawleys Island Hammock on the beach. For a brief moment, it takes me back to a time when my life was simple, and I didn't have a care in the world; like the cover photos of these old catalogs. A time when the lack of responsibilities caused me to take for granted the sheer joy of being out in nature. If you're a beekeeper, you probably know what I'm talking about. If you're not, I encourage you to find out for yourself. It's well worth it.

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 If you're interested in learning more about beekeeping, join a local beekeepers association as well as your state's beekeepers association. Explore your state's master beekeeper program if they have one. The following links can get you started:

U.S. State Beekeeping Clubs

South Carolina
South Carolina Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in South Carolina
South Carolina Master Beekeeper Program

Georgia Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in Georgia
Georgia Master Beekeeper Program

North Carolina
North Carolina State Beekeepers Association
Local Beekeepers Associations in North Carolina
North Carolina Master Beekeeper Program

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I always enjoy finding old catalogs (for any hobby) and comparing them to today's tools, techniques and prices.

    I'm not surprised you found shipping to have the highest percentage increase over the cost of equipment or bees. Seems like shipping costs are going up to ship most anything these days.

    When I was purchasing equipment this year, (several hundred dollars worth) the shipping was going double the cost of the order. I was appalled that it would cost as much to ship as the equipment itself did!

    I took a step back and did some research and ended up making a bunch of my own equipment, ordering only foundation and frames.

    Saved me a bunch of costs, and I was able to kill some time during the winter months!

    Show Me The Honey