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McDonnell recommends cutting state Beehive Grant Program

Gov. Bob McDonnell recommended cutting FY2013 funding to the Beehive Grant Program, scheduled to begin Jan.1, 2013, as part of a broader plan to help Virginia ease the sting of the pending federal government fall off the "fiscal cliff."

The cut, which amounts to a $125,000 in savings, was recommended by McDonnell in his proposed amendments to the FY2013-2014 budgets, despite the state total general fund revenue collections exceeded state forecasts by $123.1 million in FY2012.

"Gov. McDonnell's proposed amendments to the 2012-2014 biennial budget, which were announced Monday morning, included deferral of funding for the beehive grant program," said Elaine Lindholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services the governing agency of the Beehive Grant Program.

"The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) was to start accepting applications under this program on January 1, 2013. However, in light of the proposed budget amendments, VDACS will not be accepting applications at this time."

The program would have paid beekeepers up to $200 per hive and up to $2,400 per keeper to establish new hives in the state in an effort to boost the pollinating insect's population and eventually boost Virginia farm production state-wide.

The modest grant would definitely have helped bee farmers, according to Jerry Headley, lifelong bee keeper and owner of Andralyn Farm Honey in Bealeton.

"The number of bee keepers is going up tremendously, but they're mostly hobbyists, and prices for everything involving bee keeping is going up so any money from the state helps,” said Headley.

The grant was originally proposed as a tax credit by Del. Ed Scott, (R- Culpeper), and Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, (D-Charlottesville) due to dwindling bee populations across the state and their significant role in sustaining Virginia agriculture.

That role is far more significant than many realize. According to a Cornell University study reported in a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) document, the value of honey bee pollination to the U.S. agriculture is more than $14 billion annually.

"More than one-third of our diet comes from pollinated plants," said Headley.

"Of those plants, 80 percent are only pollinated by honey bees," Headley added.

Despite the bees' role in Virginia agriculture, the decision to become a bee keeper, according to Headley, shouldn't be based on a bright financial future.

Headley said someone who wants to get into bee keeping has to deal with a sizable initial investment in both bees and infrastructure.

"For someone starting out, I would recommend two hives and plan to invest around $1000 between bees and equipment," said Headley, "and that's just to get started"

As for turning a profit, Headley said a bee keeper would need between 20 and 30 hives and anywhere from 5 to 10 years of success to simply recoup their investment in revenue.

"Bee keeping isn't the right path for farmers who want to make money," said Headley.

Contact the reporter: jpinsky@timespapers.com.

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