Bryan Beekman is the Apiary/Nursery Commodity Chairman
Bryan Beekman, of Clovis, provides the FCFB Board of Directors with a new area of expertise through his beekeeping experience. Beekman is a third generation beekeeper, whose grandfather started the bee business in 1934.
Beekman’s grandfather and father ran the business until 1987. When his father retired from beekeeping in 1968, he was running 200 hives. However, instead of selling every hive at retirement, he provided 10 hives to Beekman and 10 hives to Beekman’s brother.
“Our father allowed us to care for the bees, and keep the money,” Beekman said. “At the age of 14, I took the money and bought equipment for 100 more hives and filled them with bees to continue expanding the business. Our father wouldn’t let us spend it on anything unless it was to expand the business.”
When Beekman’s brother went to college, Beekman bought out his brother’s half of the operation. Beekman continued to operate his business while he attained an associates in science degree at Fresno City College. When he graduated from college, he went straight into the refrigeration industry. After three years of facing the challenges of being a small business owner, he decided it was time to get into beekeeping full time.
“My parents put their house up for collateral so that I could purchase 700 hives from San Diego and get my business going,” Beekman said. “It was extremely stressful for me.” Despite his worries, he was confident in his ability to run the beekeeping business, and is thankful for his parents putting their trust in him.
After the first four years, Beekman noticed his business starting to turn around and generate profit. By about the tenth year, he no longer had to borrow because his business became self-sufficient.
Today, Beekman Apiaries operates 6,000 hives, and employs eight-to-10 full-time employees. His business extends from Fresno County to San Diego County, and along the west coast counties.
Beekman, though, stressed that the apiary industry, like other commodities faces the challenge of rising costs. Most of the costs relate to keeping the bees alive and healthy in preparation for spring and summer pollination. Some costs to keep the bees alive include: mite resistance, protecting bees from poor weather conditions, antibiotics for digestive stomach viruses (nozema), and providing protein patties and syrup as an extra food source because of dwindling forage areas.
Just like other commodities, Beekman said rising fixed costs are forcing smaller apiary producers out of business. Retention of beehives has devastated the industry. The risk involved in beekeeping has made the business unpredictable.
While Beekman recognizes some of these challenges, he still enjoys many aspects of his business. “I have always enjoyed putting on the bee suit and digging through the hives. I love putting bees up in the foothills and placing them in orchards during bloom season and watching the bees grow. Rural agriculture is as good as it gets.”
At this point, Beekman is immune to bee stings. “I’ve been stung so many times, it doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Beekman is one of 273 members of the cooperative Sue Bee, which placed him on a 12-year waiting list before being accepted. He saw the need to join the cooperative because of its ability to find a home for his honey at a time when finding a market for honey is difficult. Honey and pollination services use to contribute 50-50 to the business’ bottom line. Because of foreign competition of honey, the bottom line now relies on 80 percent pollination services, and 20 percent honey.
Beekman is proud of his honey production. He holds one of the highest producing hives in California at 175-to-200 pounds per hive. The California average is 75-to-100 pounds.
Beekman attributes much of his success to his hard-working employees. In an industry that experiences tremendous turnover, he has kept employees for almost 10 years, almost unheard of in the labor-intensive bee industry. He allows many of his employees to maintain hives of their own so they can provide for themselves an extra source of income.
Business supports family/hobbies
Beekman has been married to Michelle for 20 years. They have three children: Blake, 16; Brad, 14; and Brynna, 11. Together they often travel to Morro Bay, in large part because Beekman has hives on the coast. The family also travels often to Hawaii, where Beekman finds his supply of queens from an apiary producer on the Big Island of Hawaii. When time allows, the family also camps in Yosemite National Park.
When not working with the hives, Beekman works with his children on muscle cars. Together, Blake and Beekman restored a 1967 Chevelle hardtop, Blake’s first vehicle. Beekman and his son Brad are currently working on a 1969 C-10 half-ton pickup, which will be Brad’s first vehicle. Beekman is saving the 1969 Nova convertible SS for his daughter Brynna.
In addition to these three cars, Beekman also has a 1966 Chevelle convertible, a 1968 Supersport El Camino, and his first vehicle, a 1934 Ford three-window Coupe. “Working on the muscle cars is my relaxation,” Beekman said. Beekman is a member of the Fresno Hotrods Club.
Beekman previously served on the Board for the California Beekeepers Association, and constantly provides advice to both in-state and out-of-state beekeepers, and provides recommendations to growers throughout the Valley who approach him with questions.
Beekman was recruited to the Board by good friend and Board member Pat Ricchiuti.
“I look forward to helping Farm Bureau in any way possible, whether it’s bee-related or not,” Beekman said. “Because of my business, I naturally acquire information about potential legislation that affects apiary production, which could have an affect on the growers’ bottom line.”
Meet Your Board Members Profile: Ag Today, Feb 09
By: John Migliazzo