Although the price of honey is at its highest levels in years, associated costs remain high for domestic producers. And matching underpriced imports makes staying in business that much harder.
Doug Long, a third-generation beekeeper in Nebraska, said his honey production has declined in recent years. Adding to the trouble is colony collapse disorder, a thus far unexplained phenomenon in which bee hives suffer dramatic losses or, in extreme cases, even die off entirely. Replacing those bees has produced a cottage industry of bee farms that sell replacement bees and queens.
Long, 68, said when he started in the business in 1964, he could expect to lose about 10 percent of his bees every year.
"Right now we're between 30 and 40 percent of replacement every year," he said.
Replacing those losses can get expensive. A queen bee could cost about $15-$20, and Long said he had to replace about 1,500 queens last year at a cost of approximately $25,000.
"That just gives you an idea of the magnitude of the operation," he said. "And we're small."
Additionally, many producers rent their bees out to farms, particularly in California, where virtually the nation's entire almond supply is dependant solely upon pollination by bees. In fact, the $2.2 billion California almond crop is so vast that it requires 1.2 million bees to pollinate it, which is about half of all bees found in the United States, according to a recent report from the University of California-Davis.
But rising costs will be harder to offset as long as cheap, transshipped Chinese honey—or a golden syrup labeled as honey—continues to undercut domestic prices.
Nancy Gentry, a former English professor at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., is a newcomer to honey production. The 63-year-old took up beekeeping in her retirement, but after eight years in the business she has become a champion for the pure honey standard.
"I said if we could get Florida to adopt a honey standard then I think the momentum would begin to build for other states to do the same," Gentry said. "And in doing so, every time a state adopted it, it would put a little bit more squeeze on the FDA."
ABCNews.com contributor Charlie Litton is a member of the ABC News on Campus program in Lincoln, Neb.