For hobby bee farmers James and Edith Jesser of Iroquois, S.D., the drought of 2012 had an effect on their honey production that seems counterintuitive: More, not less, of some of the best honey in the country.

“We did have quite an abundant crop,” said James Jesser, who will be selling raw honey from their 2012 harvest as well as beeswax lotions at this week’s Capital City Farmers Market in Pierre. The market takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Sioux Avenue and Coteau Street.

“This year our production was 82 pounds per hive,” Jesser said. “Seventy pounds was our previous high. And 50 is an average for this area.”

Jesser said the honey is thicker and darker this year, though.

Jesser is not alone in seeing some good yields despite the drought. Mike Hall of R. Hall & Son Apiaries, a honey producer based in Davis, S.D., south of Sioux Falls, said his production this year is in the range of 85 to 90 pounds per hive, up from 65 to 75 pounds in a normal year. Hall has hives in the Interstate 29 corridor from about the North Dakota border to the Iowa line.

“We always do a little better on this end of the state when it tends to be a little drier,” Hall said. “This is probably the best year we’ve had in about five years.”

Although there’s such a thing is too dry, Hall said, for many producers east of the Missouri River, conditions in a normal year are often just a little too wet to be ideal for honey production.

Doug Mammen, vice president of member relations for Sioux City-based Sioux Honey Association, famous for its Sue Bee products, said “spotty” is the word he keeps hearing to describe this year’s production, though he agreed that some areas are faring better than normally.

“In a dry year like this, Minnesota’s going to do better than normal, but South Dakota is going to be down, I would guess. Bees do like hot and dry weather, but you do need some moisture.”

In 2011, South Dakota produced 16.5 million pounds of honey, according to data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Sioux Falls – the third-highest in the country.

Over the past 10 years, the state’s production has been as high as 22.575 million pounds in 2004.

But Mammen is right that the state as a whole typically sees a drop in production during drought years. For the last major droughts in South Dakota, 2006 and 2002, the state’s honey production fell to 10.575 million pounds and 11.475 million pounds, respectively, the lowest production in the past decade and only about half of what the state has produced in really good years.

South Dakota was second only to North Dakota, the nation’s clear leader in honey production, in 2009. North Dakota produced 34.6 million pounds that year and South Dakota produced 17.8 million pounds. In 2010 and 2011, South Dakota trailed both North Dakota and California.

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