PRESTON, ID-Newswander Brothers Honey expects their harvest to be down this year due the heat and dry conditions this summer, said David Jeppsen, one of the owners.
“The country is so dry right now, in some places there are no flowers to get nectar,” he said. “We won’t really know for sure until we start the harvest in the coming weeks.”
The Preston-based company has upwards of 8,500 hives. They range from Paradise, Utah in the south to Grace, Idaho, seventy miles north. They also have hives in the Bear Lake Area, some eighty miles from Grace.
Honey production is a big player in Idaho agriculture. The sweet stuff doesn’t carry the same weight as potatoes or dairy, but Idaho produces 3,300,000 pounds of honey annually, according to the Idaho Honey Industry Association. They also estimate the state has 143,000 colonies of bees.
Newswander’s number of active hives vary from year to year, some die off.
“We plan on losing some hives every year, so we try to add some to compensate for the ones that we think we will lose,” said Mike Newswander, who took over the family business six years ago with his brother-in-law David Jeppsen.
Newswander holds a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Utah State University, and was raised in the apiary business with his father Robert almost from the time he could walk. His uncle Roger also worked in the business.
Mike was working in Salt Lake at a bio-mechanical company when the opportunity to return to work with his father’s bees came. He took the leap and is glad he did; he said he enjoys the work. He still uses his education building and repairing equipment.
“It’s been a good move,” he said. “I enjoy working outside with nature.”
Jeppsen hails from Mantua, UT, and is married to Mike’s sister. He was working for the U.S. State Department both in Russia and Vietnam, when he decided his family needed to find a place to call home after seven years abroad. He decided to settle his family in Preston and feels like it was a good move.
“We love it here,” he said. “My oldest have memories of living in Vietnam, and Russia, where we spent another stint.”
Jeppsen is a journeyman electrician and was involved in building maintenance overseas. Between the two partners, there isn’t much that can’t be fixed in the business.
While some honey producers may fill plastic buckets and glass jars and sell them at farmers markets or roadside stands, Newswander ships 55-gallon drums to a co-op in Iowa and lets them sell and distribute their product.
On average they ship 191, 55-gallon drums of honey a year.
The two don’t do all the work by themselves. Jason Streadbeck has worked for the two for six years, and David Alder has worked in the family bee business for 25 years. A handful of teenagers and young adults also lend a hand from time to time.
During the winter, from about Thanksgiving until January, they put the bees in a dark temperature-controlled warehouse and let them ride out the cold Idaho winters.
Then the bees and their hives are taken to California where they pollinate almond groves. California farmers pay a per-hive fee to honey producers for the use of the bees.
Apiary work is not only a good profession, but bees themselves are a valuable natural resource for all humanity.
According to the Idaho Honey Industry, bees are the only insect that produces food for humans, and honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including water.
Another fun fact about honey is that it is a natural antibiotic; it speeds the healing process, combats infections, and never spoils. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating approximately 80% of all fruit, vegetable and seed crops in the United States.