THESE PARTS Most of the time, the honey business is a pretty sweet deal. That’s certainly been the case lately at Burleson’s, the 87-year-old Waxahachie company that is the nation’s largest private packer of brand-name honey. Burleson’s, whose products appear in every major food chain in five states, has seen prices skyrocket in recent years, a result of the demand for natural foods. In the past 12 months, prices have doubled because of a drought that has hurt production in the Midwest.
But Burleson’s-and everyone in the U.S. honey business-is bracing for the sting of a scary problem. Killer bees, those tabloid terrors that crossed the Rio Grande at Hidalgo in October 1990, could swarm into North Texas in two to three years.
“Killer,” or Africanized, bees are as feisty as the name implies. But the real threat to the honey biz comes from the fact that a killer bee invasion of North America could cut production by one-third, driving prices even higher. That’s because killer bees, which produce about as much honey as our standard European bees, consume a third more to feed new bees. And since European queens often mate with Africanized drones (there’s a steamy novel in there somewhere), the hives must be “requeened” annually-another expense.
Burleson’s company sales manager, MIKE MCADAMS, worries that high demand combined with prohibitive prices could cause the market to collapse. “Nobody has to buy honey,” he says. “You eat it by choice.”
So what can Burleson’s do about killer bees? Not much, except to support efforts in scientific research by Texas A&M and the National Honey Board, Barring a scientific breakthrough or some redress by Mother Nature, expect to pay more for the honey pot in the near future.