Challenging Times for Georgian Beekeepers as 2023 Marks Worst Honey Harvest in Two Decades
Georgian beekeepers face a tough year as adverse weather conditions lead to a sharp decline in honey production, affecting both domestic and international markets.
Georgian beekeepers are facing devastating impact of unprecedented weather conditions on their honey harvest this year. 2023 suggests being the worst year for honey production in the past two decades, with an estimated overall harvest decrease of 70%.
The primary cause behind this drastic reduction in honey yield has been a prolonged period of unseasonal and heavy rainfall during the spring months, significantly affecting the acacia honey harvest, which is the main export honey type. The acacia and spring (polyfloral) honey harvests are believed to have declined by as much as 90% compared to the previous year. Many beekeepers found themselves unable to extract any honey in June and were forced to provide artificial feed to sustain their bee colonies.
The unexpected weather posed a series of challenges for beekeepers in Georgia, who appeared to be unprepared. Beekeepers typically reserve some food storage for bees to use in early spring. However, because of the continuous rainy weather, the bees could not collect sufficient nectar and ended up consuming all the stored food. This led to the weakening of bee colonies, which promoted bee diseases, such as chalkbrood and varroosis.
Beekeepers mobilized significant efforts at the start of summer to prepare their apiaries for the chestnut harvest, Georgia's second-largest honey market, which occurs in June and July. But the bad weather continued with more rain during the chestnut blooming season. It is important to note that the seasonal nature of chestnut honey harvest is a common occurrence in Georgia. It is widely recognized that it is fluctuating, but never before have both harvest periods failed simultaneously. Large and medium-scale beekeepers, who had relied heavily on chestnut harvests, incurred significant losses. Transhumance, the practice of moving bee colonies to different locations, also became more costly as unpredictable weather forced frequent relocations. Several beekeepers estimated their costs at approximately twelve Georgian Lari per kg of honey, with some experiencing complete crop failure. Fortunately, towards the end of summer, beekeepers benefitted from more stable weather conditions, resulting in a better-than-expected harvest of polyfloral honey.
The effects of these challenges have had a profound impact on the honey market. Honey exports are expected to have a significant decline, as main honey types for export have been acacia and chestnut (Turkish smuggling market). This situation has already affected bulk honey export companies and their financial stability. Moreover, the reduced harvest has put pressure on the domestic market, leading to the expected 15-20% price increase.
The presence of the Georgian Beekeepers Union (GBU) during these challenging times is indeed a significant advantage. The union conducts live sessions and communicates with beekeepers across all of Georgia, and beekeepers are reaching out to the union for assistance. If similar challenging circumstances had arisen several years ago, without the help and coordination from the union, it could have caused confusion and serious problems for the beekeeping industry.