FORT PIERRE, S.D. - Josh Dykes was in charge of a crew that was removing hives filled with honey and putting on new boxes for added production in mid-August.

"We're putting more boxes on and they're still making honey," Dykes said during a field visit in mid-August. "Nice to get that for a change. The last few years have been down."

Dykes works for a facility in Kimball, which is part of Adee Honey Farms of Bruce, widely considered one of the largest honey enterprises in the world.

Dykes says, typically, a hive might make 60 to 80 pounds of honey. This year, the hives would average 120 to 200 pounds per hive, he speculates.

"Out here, West River, it was awesome," he says, of the conditions west of the Missouri River, which runs through Pierre and Fort Pierre. "The clover was awesome, and the moisture held up to keep it good."

Rob Reiners, state apiarist for South Dakota, says last February beekeepers in the state estimated they'd put out 324,000 hives this year - a good number but not much more than average, he says. The ultimate number of producing hives depends on how many times beekeepers were able to "split" or divide strong hives into more than one hive.

Reliable figures won't be available until the National Agricultural Statistics Service makes its report at the end of February.

"I'd say colony counts are up a tick," Reiners says.

People like Dykes in the industry have been saying their bee health and production is looking better than last year - cautiously optimistic against a backdrop of colony collapse problems in the past several years. That's where more bees than normal die, disappear or dwindle.

Overall, happier

"I'd say overall that they were happier (with production), but there have been a few parts in the southeast where they've had more rain than they'd like," Reiners says, citing Minnehaha, Clay and Lincoln counties. A producer in the Canton area reported his production had been hurt by 13 inches or more in June, Reiners says.

This year's sweet clover has been heavy in some areas but lighter in others. Reiners says the Vivian and Winner areas had a thick crop of it, as well as the Cheyenne River valley in northern Stanley and Haakon counties. Reiners doesn't collect official production information, but gets anecdotal reports

Some producers have been concerned about the amount of varroa mites they've been seeing. Varroa is an external parasite of the bees that carries various viruses thought to be related to colony collapse. Some producers are anxious to get fall honey harvest complete so they can treat the bees before moving them south and west to states including Texas and California.

Reiners says he's also seen some high counts of nosema, an intestinal disorder that contributes to colony collapse.

Record in North Dakota

Samantha Brunner has been in charge of the state apiary program for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture since last March. North Dakota broke the 500,000 mark this year, up some from 482,000 last year, she says.

Brunner says there are a few more registered beekeepers this year - 221, up from 205 last year. This could be because of the drought that had forced some beekeepers out of California. Beekeepers are trying to recover losses by purchasing more queens and bees. Bee health issues are pretty much the same in North Dakota as they are in South Dakota.

Beekeepers are just starting to extract honey and often don't immediately have a sense of the size of the crop, she says.