A beekeeper is a person who keeps honey bees for the purposes of securing commodities such as honey, beeswax, pollen; pollinating fruits and vegetables; raising queens and bees for sale to other farmers; and/or for purposes satisfying natural scientific curiosity. Persons who keep bees are usually classified as hobby beekeepers, sideliners, or commercial operators, depending on the number of colonies maintained.
Most beekeepers are hobby beekeepers. These people typically work or own only a few hives. Their main attraction is an interest in ecology and natural science. Honey is a by-product of this hobby. As it typically costs several hundred American dollars to establish a small apiary and dozens of hours of manipulation and work with hives and honey equipment, hobby beekeeping is seldom profitable, however not largely in Europe, where the lack of organic bee products sometimes causes buoyant demand for privately produced honey, therefore maintaining this hobby greatly profitable.
A sideline beekeeper attempts to make a profit keeping bees, but relies on another source of income. Sideliners may operate up to 300 colonies of bees, producing 10 - 20 metric tons of honey worth a few tens of thousands of dollars each year.
Commercial beekeepers control hundreds or thousands of colonies of bees. The most extensive own and operate up to 50,000 colonies of bees and produce millions of pounds of honey. The first major commercial beekeeper was probably Petro Prokopovych of the Ukraine, operating 6600 colonies in the early 1800s. Moses Quinby was the first commercial beekeeper in the USA, with 1200 colonies by the 1840s. Later (1960s-1970s), Jim Powers of Idaho, USA, had 30,000 honey producing hives. Miel Carlota operated by partners Arturo Wulfrath and Juan Speck of Mexico operated at least 50,000 hives of honey bees from 1920 to 1960. Today, Adee Honey Farm in South Dakota, USA, (40,000 colonies) and Scandia Honey Company in Alberta, Canada (12,000 colonies) are among the world's largest beekeeping enterprises. Worldwide, commercial beekeepers number about 5% of the individuals with bees but produce about 60% of the world's honey crop.
Most beekeepers produce commodities (farm products) for sale. Honey is the most valuable commodity sold by beekeepers. Honey producer beekeepers try to maintain maximum strength colonies of bees in areas with dense nectar sources. They produce and sell liquid (extracted) and sometimes comb honey. Beekeepers may sell their commodities retail, as self-brokers, or through commercial packers and distributors. Beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis may also be significant revenue generators. Taiwan beekeepers, for example, export tonnes of royal jelly, the high-nutrition food supplement fed to queen honeybees. Modern beekeepers seldom keep honey bees exclusively for beeswax production. Beeswax is harvested along with honey and separated for sale.
Some beekeepers provide a pollination service to other farmers. These beekeepers might not produce any honey for sale. Pollination beekeepers move honey bee hives at night in vast quantities so fruits and vegetables have enough pollinating insects available for maximum levels of production. For the service of maintaining strong colonies of bees and moving them into crops such as almonds, apples, cherries, blueberries, melons, and squash, these beekeepers are usually paid a cash fee.
Queen breeders are specialist beekeepers who raise queen bees for other beekeepers. The breeders maintain select stock with superior qualities and tend to raise their bees in geographic regions with early springs. These beekeepers may also provide extra bees to beekeepers (honey producers, pollinators, or hobby beekeepers) who want to start new operations or expand their farms. Queen breeders use Jenter kits in order to produce large numbers of Queen bees quickly and efficiently.
Almost all beekeepers received on-the-job training as apprentices to established beekeepers. Some vocational schools offer courses in beekeeping and most universities provide entomology and biology programs for those interested in honey bee research. Beekeepers must be good managers, independent workers, and must accept a high level of risk and frequent periods of low income. A good beekeeper can invariably earn more money in almost any other occupation, so beekeeping must be a passion as well as a vocation.