The Agriculture Committee heard testimony Feb. 14 on a bill meant to protect Nebraska apiaries from encroachment by out-of-state beekeeping operations.
Under LB499, sponsored by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, Nebraska apiaries could voluntarily register the location of their hives with the state Department of Agriculture. An owner or operator of an out-of-state commercial beekeeping operation would be barred from locating any hives within three miles of any registered Nebraska apiary or hive.
Registered beekeepers could report a violation of the quarantine to the department, which would investigate. If the out-of-state hive is too close, the department would issue a notice to remove or relocate it within three days.
Brewer said the bill is similar to legislation in surrounding states meant to prevent out-of-state beekeeping operations from consuming the forage that bees from local operations feed on.
“Imagine you have a herd of cattle that is grazing in a pasture,” Brewer said. “One day I show up and put my herd of cattle in the same pasture as yours. Now your cattle and mine are competing for the same food source — the out-of-state beekeepers are doing just that, and Nebraska beekeepers must compete with them.”
Edward McDonald, a commercial honey producer from western Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. He said Nebraska honey producers need protected areas to prevent out-of-state operations from driving them out of business.
In recent years, he said, California farmers have increased the acreage devoted to growing almonds. That means more demand for bees to pollinate those crops and less forage available to feed the bees. As a result, California beekeeping operations leave the state during the summer to find forage, often traveling to states like Nebraska. The out-of-state bees decimate the forage that local operations need to produce honey.
“We are being destroyed by out-of-state beekeepers putting their bees on our locations,” he said.
Brian Nilson, vice president of the Nebraska Beekeepers Association, also testified in support of the bill but said he spotted several gaps in it. LB499 should include an exception in the three-mile encroachment radius for landowners who wish to keep their own bees, he said. That rule also would need to accommodate urban beekeepers — there are more than 40 within the Lincoln city limits, Nilson said.
Those matters aside, he said, encroachment makes it difficult for Nebraska honey producers to stay in business.
“Our beekeepers definitely need protection from encroachment,” Nilson said.
No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.