Summary of Beekeeper Survey about Certified Kentucky Honey Label

By: Shannon Trimboli

Over the past few weeks we have been conducting a survey asking Kentucky’s beekeepers about their interest in a Certified Kentucky Honey Label. A second survey asking consumers about what is important to them when they buy honey is being run through the end of the month. Results from that survey will be presented in September.

The response rate for the survey of Kentucky beekeepers was very low compared to the survey distribution. (See full survey results for distribution information.) However, the 80 people who participated in the survey provided very valuable and detailed answers. (A BIG thank you to everyone who participated.) The full results of the survey are available and a summary is provided below. I encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to spend some time reading through the results and comments.

The vast majority of beekeepers (87%) who responded produce under 500 pounds of honey per year. Most of the beekeepers (75%) said they participate in KY Proud. Among those who don’t participate in KY Proud, a common reason for their lack of participation is that they see no value in it because it doesn’t mean the honey was produced in Kentucky.

Most people (82%) indicated that they think Kentucky needs to implement a label certifying honey as being from this state. Responses to questions asking participants about how valuable they thought a Certified Kentucky Honey label would be, how important they thought it was that KSBA pursue such a label, and how interested they would be in participating in a Certified Kentucky Honey label were also positive. (See full survey results for details related to each question.) However, those numbers do not tell the whole story and in many ways are misleading. The fact that so few people participated in the survey further suggests that support for a Certified Kentucky Honey label may not be as overwhelming as it looks at first glance.

There was strong agreement among beekeepers on both sides of the issue that this was what KY Proud should be and what their customers believe KY Proud means. This sentiment was brought up by multiple participants for every question that allowed the participants to enter their own thoughts and comments. One of the beekeepers wrote the following statement which I believe represents what most of the participants were saying, “If it is NOT 100% Kentucky honey, it should NOT be Kentucky Proud!”

The reasons people gave for why they thought Kentucky needed a Certified Kentucky Honey label revolved around helping customers know where their honey was produced or stopping out-of-state honey from being labeled as Kentucky honey. A third of those in favor of the label referred to KY Proud in their reason for why we needed a Certified Kentucky Honey label. Of those opposed to the Certified Kentucky Honey label, 12% said their reason was that they thought KY Proud should change their regulations.

When given the opportunity to indicate who should run a Certified Kentucky Honey label program, 37% said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture / Kentucky Proud, 25% said Kentucky State Beekeepers Association, and 38% didn’t indicate either agency. Similarly, when given the opportunity to pick who should lead the education and marketing efforts related to a Certified Kentucky Honey label, 63% said both agencies should work together to do it, 27% said the Kentucky Department of Agriculture / Kentucky Proud, and 18% said Kentucky State Beekeepers Association.

There was a strong concern about increased bureaucracy and government regulations expressed by several participants throughout the survey. This sentiment seems to contradict the survey results showing most participants do not think the Kentucky State Beekeepers Association (a non-government agency representing Kentucky’s beekeepers) should be running the program or taking a solo lead on education and marketing. However at the same time, the survey numbers do not show strong support for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture / Kentucky Proud to be running the program or taking a solo lead.

When given an opportunity to indicate who should be able to use the Certified Kentucky Honey label, the vast majority (82%) thought it should only be used for honey produced from hives located in Kentucky and 54% thought it should only be used by beekeepers who are residents of Kentucky and keep their hives in the state year round. Answers to this question were not mutually exclusive. Additional responses can be found in the full survey results.

When given an opportunity to indicate what requirements there should be to participate in a Certified Kentucky Honey program, 51% thought participants’ apiaries should be able to be visited to verify the number of hives and production, 35% thought participants should be KSBA members, 34% thought there should be a multi-tiered system recognizing the difference between small beekeepers and large beekeepers, 32% thought participants should be KY Proud, 24% thought the program should function on an honor system, 23% thought a lab analysis showing the honey came from Kentucky should be required, and 15% thought participants should be required to provide annual reports as proof they weren’t importing honey. These answers are not mutually exclusive and do not take into consideration the 14 additional comments that participants wrote out (these were summarized in the full survey results).

Valuable additional information about how participants envision a Certified Kentucky Honey label working can be found in the full survey results. Also included in the full survey results are comparisons of what the participants think KY Proud means vs what a Certified Kentucky Honey label would mean. Similar comparisons are also included for what participants think their customers would think each label means.

The number one reason why participants opposed the Certified Kentucky Honey was concerns about the cost. This reason was given by 44% of those not in favor of the new label. Over and over, participants expressed concern that it would be cost prohibitive to the small beekeeper and may put the small beekeeper out of business. Concerns about cost were also expressed by those in favor of the label.

When the participants were asked what they thought a fair cost would be for participating in the program, 32% said it should be free, 34% said less than $25 / year, and 28% said $25 – $49 / year. Several responses to the question asking for additional comments or suggestions about the Certified Kentucky Honey label were suggestions about costs and statements about the need for a tiered system or sliding scale that made it possible for small beekeepers to participate (these responses can be found in the full survey results). None of the options regarding costs for participating are likely to be economically viable for creating and marketing a new label. There is zero support for a program that does not include the smaller beekeepers.

Despite the mostly positive survey responses, the fact that so few beekeepers thought this matter was important enough to participate in the survey suggests that we do not currently have the support needed to create a new Certified Kentucky Honey label. Several survey participants stated they didn’t even realize there was a problem with people labeling out-of-state honey as Kentucky honey. Many indicated that they didn’t see how it was relevant to them.

In order for a Certified Kentucky Honey label to be successful, it will need the full support of the beekeeping community. This topic has some support within the beekeeping community, but does not have full support and many more discussions will need to be had among the beekeeping community if full support is to be gained. After spending almost 8 hours reading through all of the survey responses then compiling and summarizing the answers, I believe Kentucky beekeepers are saying the following:

  1. They (and their customers) see value, or potential value, in KY Proud and would prefer to see this issue addressed within the KY Proud program.
  2. If #1 does not happen, then they want to continue discussing the possibility of pursuing a new Certified Kentucky Honey label, but no consensus has been reached on how that should happen and therefore KSBA should not rush into creating one.