A group of busy beekeepers has been buzzing the Georgia General Assembly this year to create a new license plate that would raise money for Georgia bees.
House Bill 671 would create a specialty plate to benefit the Georgia Beekeepers Association, which designed the plate and put up the tens of thousands of dollars needed to fund the initial offering to Georgia drivers.
The bill sailed through the state House in a unanimous vote on Feb. 1 and is now working its way through the Senate.
As with other specialty tags, the beekeepers tag would come with a one-time $25 manufacturing fee and an annual $35 specialty tag fee on top of the $20 annual registration fee. Those extra dollars would go to a few important beekeeping programs in the state.
“Our main mission is the education of beekeepers and the public, so we will use the money from it to help fund more junior beekeeping clubs and classes in Georgia,” said Linda Tillman, president of the association.
Not only does the association help fund classes and programs for amateur and expert beekeepers, but the group helps operate a beekeeping program in Georgia’s prison system. The association has bee hives in five prisons throughout the state, including in the Arrendale State Prison, a women’s prison near Alto.
“We teach them. I’ve given three different talks to them on beekeeping, and they have hives there — I think they have about six hives there that the prisoners maintain,” Tillman said.
At peak honey season in the summer, each hive can have as many as 70,000 bees in it. Beginning in late December, the queen bee begins laying eggs to restore her hive ahead of summer. She’ll lay up to 1,000 eggs each day during the winter.
HB 671 is sponsored by Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, who is himself a beekeeper. Dunahoo said on Friday that bees are essential for the health of agriculture and wildlife in the state and that helping the association maintain healthy bee populations in Georgia was an important task.
He also said he was optimistic that the bill would clear the Senate and be signed into law this year.
The bill comes at a good time for the association. Bee populations in the United States have been on the decline since the 1940s for a number of reasons, many of them having to do with how agriculture is organized in most of the country.
“We used to have way many more feral bee colonies that were dependent on weeds growing on the sides of fields,” Tillman said. “In big farming country, there aren’t any weeds (left) on the sides of the field.”
In North Georgia, bee populations are relatively healthy because weeds and other flowering plants are left intact alongside farming tracts and in green spaces.
A popular variety of honey in the piedmont area of Georgia is sourwood honey, though most beekeepers sell wildflour honey because of the wide variety of plants visited by bees during the summer. South Georgia is more known for tupelo honey, Tillman said, which is named for the tupelo gum tree.
The bee is also Georgia’s state insect. In the past five years, public information campaigns from organizations like the GBA has led to a surge in beekeeping in the state and country.
The number of GBA-related beekeeping clubs in the state has more than doubled in the past five years, Tillman said.
One of the members of the association is Bobby Thanepohn, a Forsyth County beekeeper who is a co-owner of Bobbee MacBees, a honey company that sells its products at the Canton Farmers Market during the summers.
A retired Army soldier, Thanepohn picked up beekeeping three years ago through a Kickstarter campaign for the Flow Hive, a novel design for a bee hive that allows honey to be extracted with less disruption for bees.
Since getting his feet wet three years ago, Thanepohn now operates 20 hives in the state in two locations.
“More and more hobby beekeepers, backyard beekeepers, are taking up the hobby, which can only be good because the bees are facing some pretty tough obstacles,” he said. “The plight that bees face is not just local to Georgia, but it’s nationwide and across the world. But if we’re able to raise the awareness and maybe get people thinking differently about, perhaps, mosquito fogging and pesticide use — things that harm not just bees but other pollinators — it’ll be good for everybody overall.”
The busiest time for bees in Georgia is during the tulip poplar bloom in the summer. The Honeybee Conservancy also maintains a list of bee-friendly flowers that can be planted to attract the insects.
Now that HB 671 has cleared the House, it’s been referred to the Senate Public Safety Committee, which is due to consider the bill next week.
“Hopefully it will buzz right out of the committee,” Tillman said.