Beekeeper struggling to replace honey bees after Polar Vortex and state taxes

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EARLVILLE, Iowa (KWWL) – The Polar Vortex is behind us. But one beekeeper is still dealing with the aftermath.

The record-breaking cold destroyed about 80 to 90% of Bruce Rafoth’s hives. He owns Hickory Spring Honey Farm in Earlville.

Rafoth has raised honey bees for about five years. It’s not easy. But he said bees are important. They pollinate our crops, making them responsible for much of our food supply.


Many mornings, you’ll find Rafoth in his backyard, tending to his honey bees. He said he loves it, however, it’s a constant battle to keep them alive.

“The average death loss in honey bees is 40 to 60% each year,” Rafoth said.

Before Winter, Rafoth had 17 hives. Now, he’s left with just two.

“It’s disheartening to go out there in the Spring and open your hive and see a bunch of dead bees in there,” he explained.


While Rafoth would like to replace his hives, he said it’s too expensive. Iowa’s Department of Revenue taxes beekeepers 7% to buy new breeding stock. Their reasoning is bees are considered wild.

Rafoth needs to buy 17 hives. An average hive costs between $100 and $175 to replace.

“I’ll probably end up buying some, but I don’t know how many,” Rafoth said.

The state doesn’t tax other farmers this way, so Rafoth said he doesn’t understand why he can’t get the same exemption. Although admittedly, the costs to replace cattle and other livestock is more.

“There’s no tax on other breeding stock for cattle, or hogs, or chicken, or anything else,” he explained.

Rafoth is worried the tax will discourage beekeepers across the state.

“People are going to get frustrated and not raise bees, and that’s going to be a disaster for the human population just because they do a lot of good for mankind,” he said.


Rafoth told KWWL he hopes legislation changes in the future. He’s met with his State Senator Dan Zumbach. Rafoth said Zumbach agrees with his point of view, but needs his colleagues to also get on board.

Olivia Schmitt

Olivia Schmitt

Morning Reporter at KWWL
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