Is Beekeeping Agriculture?

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Updated on January 18th, 2021

Beekeeping (technically called “apiculture”) is considered agriculture based on standard definitions and everyday usage. Beekeeping is also treated as agriculture (or farming) by the Federal and State governments via regulation and tax codes. The Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a Master Beekeeping Certificate Program.

As a hobby, backyard beekeeper, this classification is probably not that particularly meaningful to you. (You can brag to your friends how many “head” you have in your “herd” if you like.)

Though even as a hobbyist, check your state’s department of agriculture for regulatory information that may pertain to you, such as registration of your hives. For example, West Virginia mandates that beekeepers register with the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

Your local government may not have an agriculture department, but you should check regulations with them anyway, especially in urban and suburban areas. In California, there are county agriculture commissioners.

If you intend to be a commercial beekeeper, the classification of agriculture is a bit more critical. There are regulatory and tax implications, which may not apply to a hobbyist. Income tax and property tax law treatment of beekeeping as agriculture can have a meaningful impact on you.

You should check with a qualified professional (lawyer or tax accountant) for advice in these areas.

Agriculture Definition

Merriam-Webster defines agriculture as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products.”

As a beekeeper, your honey bees are livestock as we outline below. Thus, beekeeping is considered agriculture by standard definitions.

The U.S. Government Considers Beekeeping Agriculture

U.S. Department Of Agriculture (USDA)

The USDA refers to beekeeping by its agricultural name. Apiculture is defined as “the maintenance of honeybees and hives – provides farmers and hobbyists with a variety of enterprises including production of beeswax, honey and other edible bee products; crop pollination services and sale of bees to other beekeepers.”

The USDA provides support for beekeepers in a variety of ways, such as:

  • The USDA Agricultural Research Service has five bee research labs focused on “improving honey bee stock and honey bee management,” including controlling bee diseases and parasites. This department of USDA is also exploring Colony Collapse Disorder, which has stressed the honey bee population.
  • The USDA Farm Service Agency provides information on pollinators and related resources.
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service shows farmers how to help pollinators.
  • Also, the USDA is a source of information on bee health, the honey market, techniques, and other things of interest to beekeepers.
  • According to US law, The Secretary of Agriculture can prohibit or restrict the importation or entry of honeybees and take other steps to prevent the introduction and spread of diseases and parasites harmful to honey bees.

Bees Are Considered Livestock

In addition to being included with livestock by the IRS as noted below, honey bees are considered livestock by the USDA.

While the USDA has yet to finalize organic standards for apiculture, the National Organic Standards Board states, “Since honeybees are animals, the Livestock Committee of the National Organic Standards Board takes responsibility for developing a recommendation for USDA standards to govern the production of organic honey and honey-related products, such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom.

Inspecting a frame with bees and brood
Checking up on the livestock

Also, Canada and Australia both have regulations recognizing bees as livestock.

Beekeeping Is Considered Farming By The IRS

Beekeeping is considered farming by the Internal Revenue Service. IRS Publication 225, Farmer’s Tax Guide (2019), states that a “farm includes livestock” among other things, including structures “used primarily for raising agricultural…commodities.”

Also, when referring to deductions for fuel, Publication 225 says that fuel is used for farming purposes if you use it to “raise, shear, feed, care for, train or manage livestock, bees, poultry, fur-bearing animals, or wildlife.” (Emphasis added)

See our article 11 Best Plants For Honey Bees (And 5 To Avoid) for information on how you can help your pollinators.

Other U.S. Agencies

The US Environmental Protection Agency takes steps to protect bees for a variety of reasons including the important role bees serve as pollinators of crops.

Even the US Food & Drug Administration recognizes the role of beekeeping in agriculture.

By every discernible measure, the Federal government considers beekeeping an agricultural pursuit.

U.S. States Treat Beekeeping As Farming

All 50 U.S. states treat beekeeping as agricultural either to regulate beekeeping or determine if a property qualifies as farmland for real estate tax purposes. These rules are generally enforced by each state’s agriculture department and its tax department. 

Your beekeeping operation may qualify you for beneficial treatment as agricultural land for real estate tax purposes. Laws vary from state to state.

The American Bee Project has a 50 State Guide you can use as a starting point to figure out if you qualify. For each state, there is a brief synopsis of the rules and links to more information.

As an example, here in New York State, there are requirements on how much land you have, the length of time it’s used for agricultural purposes (beekeeping counts), and minimum gross income thresholds. Each county has its deadline for filing as an agricultural property.

We live a rural area. There are sizable farms and cattle ranches around us. However, some landowners that are not farmers by occupation lease their land for agriculture. This generates some additional income and possible benefits from the lower level of taxation applied to farm properties.

Even if you’re not a beekeeper yourself, you may be able to take advantage of farming tax rules by leasing your property to beekeepers. Check with a lawyer and your local authorities.

If you’re running a commercial beekeeping operation, are looking to obtain agricultural tax treatment, or need to register your hives with any government agency, record keeping is essential. Check out our article Record Keeping For Beekeepers (A Guide to Why, What & How).

Beekeeping Is Considered An Agriculture-based Occupation

During the Covid 19 pandemic, those deemed to be “essential workers” were generally exempt from various regulations such as travel restrictions. Beekeepers were often designated as essential workers as agricultural workers.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services sets travel rules for temporary agriculture workers. Commercial beekeeping is an agriculture-based occupation under these cases.

New Zealand exempted beekeepers from usual travel restrictions as long as certain protocols were followed.

Other Countries

The European Union Commissioner for Agriculture has said, “Beekeeping is an important part of the EU agri-food sector, helping to keep jobs in our rural areas. Bees are also vitally important for the sustainability of our agriculture and for healthy ecosystems.”

The EU national apiculture programs accept that honey bees “are essential for agriculture and the  environment, they ensure plant reproduction by pollination, whilst beekeeping contributes to the development of rural areas.”

In the United Kingdom, the Bee Farmers Association is an industry group working on behalf of bee farmers who produce honey and other products for sale and contract pollination services to growers. It provides industry training for professional development

As another example, in Australia, Agriculture Victoria lists honey bees as livestock and requires the registration of all beehives.

Canada’s Organic production systems: General principles and management standards includes apiculture as farming and includes bees in its definition of livestock.

The Government of British Columbia includes beekeeping as part of farming and agriculture.

Agriculture Grants

Federal and state agriculture departments sometimes offer grants to assist farmers.

For example, in 2014, the USDA announced a $3 million program to improve the health of pollinators. The goal was to help farmers with technical and financial assistance to improve the health of bees.

These kinds of grants are usually offered periodically. It pays to check various government agriculture websites to see if any are currently provided. As a beekeeper, you may qualify.

Agricultural Products Of Bees

Bees produce a variety of agricultural products the most prominent of which is honey. The use of honey by humans may date back as far 9,000 years ago. It’s also been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.

In addition to honey, the hives provide us with other agricultural products: beeswax, royal jelly, pollen, and propolis.

However, the actual products of the hive are dwarfed in importance by the primary contribution of bees to our agriculture – pollination of our food crops.

According to the FDA, “bee pollination accounts for about $15 billion in added crop value.” Honey bees play a crucial role in food production. They’d be considered agricultural livestock even without the benefit of their various hive products.

What Happens If All The Bees Die?

In Summary

Beekeeping (apiculture) is considered farming. As such, it is supported and regulated by a variety of agricultural departments and organizations.

These groups can be valuable sources of information and financial assistance that beekeepers should explore.

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