Beekeepers look after beehives in apiaries that produce honey, wax, pollen and other products. Beekeepers also offer pollination services to horticultural and seed crop producers.
Beekeepers with one to three years’ experience usually earn
$31K-$37K per year
Beekeepers with three to four years' experience usually earn
$40K-$55K per year
Source: Federated Farmers.
Pay for employed beekeepers varies depending on the number of hives they look after, their experience and their level of responsibility. Some employers give their beekeepers a percentage of the annual honey production.
- Beekeepers with no experience usually start on about $31,000 a year, rising to about $37,000 with at least a season behind them.
- Beekeepers with three to four years' experience usually earn between $40,000 and $55,000.
- Apiary managers, who are responsible for staff and apiary operations, usually earn between $65,000 and $95,000.
Earnings for owner-operator beekeepers depend on the number of hives they manage, and their income from pollination services and honey production. A good beekeeper can manage up to 500 hives with limited assistance.
Source: Federated Farmers.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Beekeepers may do some or all of the following:
- collect honey from hives and extract honey from combs
- transport hives to various locations
- inspect hives and treat them for diseases or parasites such as the varroa mite
- ensure colonies have sufficient food
- provide a pollination service by renting hives to orchards and farms
- breed queen bees
- build and maintain hives
- package honey and honey products for processing
- run their own business and keep records.
Skills and knowledge
Beekeepers need to have:
- thorough knowledge of the yearly cycle and habits of bees
- good bee-handling skills so they know when and how to approach bees
- knowledge of plant types and life cycles, and how and when plants produce nectar
- skill in identifying bee diseases, and knowledge of methods of disease control
- knowledge of how to extract and assess the quality of bee products such as honey, pollen, royal jelly and propolis (an antibiotic gum or resin)
- carpentry skills for building and repairing hive boxes.
Those running their own business also need small business skills.
- work long and irregular hours in the peak summer and autumn seasons, with some evening or night work possible
- work in honey houses and workshops, and outside on farms and orchards
- often have to work outdoors in all types of weather, and will sometimes get stung by bees
- travel long distances between hives.
What's the job really like?
Stephen Black - Beekeeper
Stephen Black worked in the oil and gas industry until he discovered he could make a full-time career out of beekeeping.
"I decided to get a couple of beehives just as an interest, but found two wasn't enough for what I wanted to do, so I got five more.
"We got a phone call a few months later from the people we had bought the hives from. They were retiring and wanted to know if we wanted the rest of their hives. So we went from seven hives to 147 very quickly."
A lot to learn about keeping bees
"We self-taught mostly. We went to workshops, fieldays, conferences, and have done correspondence courses. I take every opportunity to learn. It's not as simple as putting a couple of hives in a paddock.
"You need to know about different types of plants, and the nutritional qualities of the pollen they produce. You have to be able to recognise bee diseases and how best to treat them. Then there's bee reproduction and artificial insemination. And you need to know about the different grades and types of honey, and how to sell and market your products."
- Being your own boss.
- Variety of the work – from marketing to building hives.
- Bee stings (although you get used to them).
- Poor flowering seasons that produce less honey.
Watch the video to learn more about beekeeping - 3.08 mins
Frank: It was basically another beekeeper gave me, well he didn’t give me, he sold me a hive, and that’s how you set it up. Most people start with either a nucleus for a colony, which is four frames, or they buy a whole hive. It’s easier to start with a nucleus – your confidence grows as the beehive grows. But I didn’t have bees until I was 21, till I got my own hives.
Interviewer: How many hives do you have now?
Frank: We have 300 producing ones and another hundred new ones we’ve made, that we’re going to sell on.
Interviewer: What are the main tasks of being a beekeeper?
Frank: The main tasks? Look after your stock really. It’s like all farming; so you actually look after the bees and then get them as really built up as much as possible, because the bees will then bring in the honey. They only live six weeks and it’s only four weeks basically in the air where they’re flying and the honey crop comes in in that time. So you’ve got to time your expansion of the hive so it meets a maximum population right on when the honey flow starts, and then they build up the honey.
Interviewer: So are there seasonal tasks?
Frank: Yeah, there’s seasonal tasks. Winter’s cleaning up, the spring is stopping them from swarming, splitting them from swarming and building them up. As soon as the first nectar flows, all the boxes go on. This time of year we start extracting the honey then put the boxes away and sell the honey and it starts again. So, we’re now preparing our hives for next year now, by making new queens, getting new queens in the hives.
Frank: Every year’s different; every season’s different. You’ve got to beat mites to keep your bees alive, you’ve got to produce honey. Not every season we produce honey – you get a storm during our Christmas period here and there's no honey’s produced.
Interviewer: Are there any drawback – obviously the stings aren’t a big problem any more.
Frank: Within about six months you become immune. Some people will become allergic being stung over a period of time, but generally your body gets used to stings – if you’re stung once a month the immunity goes down; after a few years your pain threshold goes up, so you know … being a beekeeper, manual working you get a bit of hard hands. So you can virtually get them out of your hands very, very quickly, and you’re not really getting much of a sting.
Interviewer: And the varroa mite – what sort of impact has that had?
Frank: We lost 50 hives last Christmas out of…we had 400 then. When they build up, one hive collapses, the other ones will pinch the honey out of it, and then the mites just go on and on – the bees take it back and within a month they’re nearly all dead.
Interviewer: What sort of person do you need to be to be a good beekeeper?
Frank: Somebody who likes nature – you tend to work alone; there’s commercial beekeepers that employ staff, but really just like the insect – you can learn the task, it’s actually just having the right attitude really.
There are no entry requirements to become a beekeeper. Most skills can be learned on the job, but a tertiary qualification such as the National Certificate in Apiculture (Level 2) in beekeeping is useful. Telford – part of Lincoln University – offers a full-time apiculture (beekeeping) programme in Kaitaia, where students can study towards a National Certificate in Apiculture (Level 3). Primary ITO offers Level 2 training.
- Primary ITO website - information on the National Certificate in Apiculture
- Telford website - information on the Telford Certificate in Apiculture
Apprenticeships are sometimes available.
Further training often provided for beekeepers
Employers may support their beekeepers to complete Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement (DECA) training – to make sure they can recognise American foulbrood disease.
Many employers require their beekeepers to have a driver's licence and a heavy vehicle licence, and some may support staff to gain heavy truck and fork-lift licences.
Useful subjects include agriculture, maths, and biology.
Beekeepers must be:
- good at keeping records.
Keeping bees as a hobby, attending beekeeping courses or joining the local beekeepers' club may be a good introduction to beekeeping. Carpentry or other woodworking experience is also useful.
Beekeepers must not have any allergies to bee stings or pollen. They need to be fit and healthy and reasonably strong because some heavy lifting is involved. Good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) is also required.
Anyone can keep a beehive, but each apiary site must be registered with AsureQuality. Some urban authorities may have restrictions on beekeeping in their council areas.
DECA registration and inspections
DECA training is not mandatory, but nearly all beekeepers are expected to be DECA registered. DECA sets out a code of beekeeping practice to ensure that the incidence of American foulbrood disease in hives is eliminated and doesn't recur.
All hives must be inspected annually by beekeepers approved by AsureQuality.
- AsureQuality - quality assurance services for beekeepers
- American Foulbrood Pest Management Strategy website - explanation of DECA certification
Find out more about training
- Primary ITO
- (04) 8019616 - firstname.lastname@example.org - http://www.primaryito.ac.nz
- Telford Rural Polytechnic
- 0800 835367 - email@example.com - www.telford.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Honey production can fluctuate significantly from year to year depending on the weather, and this affects employment opportunities.
However, in 2013 honey exports reached record levels with the demand for New Zealand honey, particularly manuka, increasing for medicinal applications. Many existing commercial beekeepers are increasing their hive numbers for manuka honey production and this is likely to increase the demand for skilled beekeepers.
Shortage of experienced beekeepers
Employers often struggle to find highly experienced staff. For this reason the job appears on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list, which means the Government is actively encouraging skilled beekeepers from overseas to work in New Zealand.
People new to beekeeping will find it easier to get a job with the 10-12 larger honey producing companies in the country, and in the busier spring and summer seasons, between September and February. Those with practical skills which may include a farming or gardening background will find the training easier.
Employers range from small to big
Many beekeepers work as owner-operators, producing their own boutique honeys or supplying a co-operative company. The number of hives they own can range from 10 to many hundreds.
Other beekeepers work for large companies that develop and sell honey products. These companies may employ dozens of beekeepers, and operate large factories.
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Immediate Skill Shortage List', accessed January 2015, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Plant & Food Research and Horticulture New Zealand, 'Fresh Facts 2013', accessed January 2015, (www.freshfacts.co.nz).
- The Bay of Plenty Times, 'Paving way for medical honey export', August 13, 2014 (www.nzherald.co.nz).
- Weight, M, strategic account manager, Primary ITO, Careers New Zealand interview, January 2015.
Progression and specialisations
Beekeepers may start off working for someone else before establishing their own hives and running their own businesses.
Other options include working as a sales and marketing representative for bee-related products, or working solely on breeding bees.
Last updated 26 May 2017