Remote Monitoring of Beehives to Improve Management and Reduce Travel Costs

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2012: $6,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Matthew LaForge
Golden Hills, LLC

Annual Reports


  • Animals: bees


  • Animal Production: general animal production
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency, energy use

    Proposal summary:

    Matthew LaForge is the owner and sole employee of Golden Hills, LLC, a small producer of local, natural honey. Matthew has been involved in beekeeping since June 5, 2000 and has gained experience both working with honeybees and running a small business. Matthew received his BA in Economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in May, 2010 and will receive his MA in Agricultural & Applied Economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in May, 2012. He is also pursuing his Master Beekeeper certification through the University of Georgia & Young Harris College. He is an active member in both the Dane County Beekeepers Association and the Milwaukee-Waukesha Beekeepers Association.

    Golden Hills currently maintains 19 honeybee colonies for honey production (2011) and will operate between 25 – 40 colonies in 2012. Hives are spread over several locations including Coloma, Cross Plains, WI in 2011 and will expand to include New Berlin and Sullivan, WI in 2012. Golden Hills specializes in producing high-quality, artisanal honeys and derives 100% of its profits from honey sales directly to consumers. Golden Hills currently provides hives to pollinate over 16,000 acres and will double this number next year. Plans for future expansion include both increased colonies for honey production and diversification into the commercial pollination industry. Golden Hills will manage 150 colonies for honey production and pollination by 2015.

    Fuel costs are a major expense for Golden Hills and many beekeepers. Since colonies are spread out over a large area and need to be monitored frequently during the honey production season, beekeepers put on many miles driving between bee yards, or apiaries. During the summer, this often requires loading up a large truck with extra supers, the boxes the bees will fill with honey. Experience and weather can be a valuable guide but it is difficult to know exactly how quickly the bees will fill these boxes so the beekeeper will need to bring extra in order to not miss out on valuable honey production time.

    I propose to research the feasibility of using remote monitoring technology to manage honeybees more profitably and sustainably by reducing the number of trips to remote apiaries. We will use digital scales to collect daily weight measurements on colonies at several locations and wirelessly post the data to the internet so it is available from anywhere.

    The data will then be analyzed in Microsoft Excel and R to determine patterns in weight fluctuations that indicate that additional honey storage space is needed, allowing the beekeeper to make more informed decisions about when to visit his or her apiaries and how much equipment to bring along. At other times of the year, this same information could be useful in assessing which hives may require emergency feeding or other attention. Once relevant patterns are determined we will statistically determine the optimal number of hives to monitor in each apiary to balance data reliability with reasonable equipment costs. Once we have gathered the data over one or two seasons, we expect to be able to synthesize useful guidelines for beekeepers and develop a cost-effective system that is easy to install and operate in the field.

    Future work (not part of grant funding) will focus on creating an open-source online resource where beekeepers’ data from around the country is voluntarily posted so decision makers have access to a larger dataset and even beekeepers who are not able to afford the cost of monitoring their hives can still benefit by seeing aggregated data for their region.

    To our knowledge, no previous research has been done in this area.

    There is a great need for productivity enhancing technologies in the beekeeping industry which has operated largely unchanged for decades, baring the introduction of synthetic miticides and antibiotics. Management and production research in apiculture, especially honey production, is rare and this project is a first step in improving managers’ decision-making abilities based on actual, measurable data.

    There is currently a NASA-sponsored nation-wide research project that asks volunteer beekeepers to take daily measurements of their hives on feed scales. The data is used to estimate when nectar flows begin in order to answer how changing climate effects honey bees.

    Our results will be publicly disseminated to beekeepers through the two primary trade publications: The American Bee Journal and Bee Culture. These two publications reach the vast majority of beekeepers, ranging from commercial operators to hobbyists managing a single hive in their backyard. 

    Additionally, I will present our findings at the annual Eastern Apiculture Society (EAS) conference, the largest gathering of beekeepers in the United States. If the results are particularly compelling, I would also present at the Heartland Apiculture Society and Western Apiculture Society conferences, which do reach significant numbers of beekeepers but are notably less important than the EAS meeting.

    Closer to home, I will present our results with other beekeepers in the Dane County Beekeepers Association and the Milwaukee-Waukesha Beekeepers Association. If met with success, I would present to other beekeeping organizations at the state and local level.

    We will measure our success by assessing how many of the following objectives we are able to accomplish. Each objective builds on the one before it.

    1. Establishing that data on hive weight has decision-making power for determining when to visit apiaries and how much equipment will be needed.

    2. Determining a minimum number (less than 100%) of hives that must be monitored to provide adequate apiary-wide information for decision-makers.

    3. Developing a simple and cost-effective system for other beekeepers to collect this data. A good product will be one that pays for itself through efficiency gains (labor and fuel savings) within one year.

    This project will be valuable to the beekeeping community even if we determine that the data we collect has no direct implications for planning apiary visits. Introducing the possibility of using modern technology to monitor hives and demonstrating the value of doing so has the potential to revolutionize the industry that is declining due to its extreme dependence on cheap, highly-skilled labor. The infrastructure put in place for collecting and reporting this data can easily be modified to collect hive temperature or report real-time flight activity at the hive entrance. In fact, we are already developing plans for future research using this data.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.