“Beekeeping in Argentina

Bee Culture (July 2006), Vol. 134 (7): 17-19




Malcolm T. Sanford



No honey report in any beekeeping publication omits reference to Argentina.  The name comes from the Latin argentium, which means silver.  The Spanish called the most known geographical element of the country the Río de la Plata (River Plate), the river of silver.  In the modern era the country is best known for its capitol, Buenos Aires (nice airs), considered the Paris of South America, and its agricultural commodities, mostly  grown in an area known as the humid pampa adjacent to Buenos Aires, and extending  to the foothills of the Andes mountains, which separate the country from its western neighbor, Chile.  Perhaps beef and wine are the best known of these, but soybeans, sunflowers and other crops are also grown there.  And then there is honey.


The humid pampa is a perfect environment for the European honey bee, temperate enough for the insects to do well in putting up stores of honey and planted with crops the bees do well on in other temperate lands in the United States, Canada, China and Russia.  There is also a tropical side of Argentina to the north near its borders with Paraguay and Brazil, which is inhabited by Africanized honey bees.  Even in that area, however, most beekeepers continue to prefer European bees because of their honey productivity.


Beekeeping began in earnest and continues today in the central part of Argentina in the province called “La Pampa,” according  to a report by Marcelo Real published in 2004.1  It started in the 1930s when Raimundo Urmente Gil began to manage a small apiary near the town of Victoria.  Honey was eventually put in barrels and sent by rail to Buenos Aires, where it was packed and exported by several firms.  The activity slowly grew through the 1950s and 1960s.  Queens from Italy were first imported in 1967.  In the 1970s, growth in beekeeping accelerated and a census was begun.  The first woman to enter the business in 1973 was Celia Castro. 


The 1980s saw a dramatic increase in beekeepers.  It was a golden era where colonies made between 80 and 90 kilograms (176 to 198 lbs) of honey during the long growing season (December to  March) and there were few pests to worry about.  Unfortunately, Varroa destructor was introduced in the late 1980s and production declined.  The problems brought on by the Varroa mite resulted in a series of regulations (the first apiary law was promulgated in 1985).  Nevertheless, interest in beekeeping continued to grow and various courses were taught in universities and the private sector.  The first “Apiculture in the Pampa” convention took place in 1984.


The 1990s brought more growth as Argentina became and continues to be one of the largest honey producers and exporters in the world.  Financial help and credit were extended to beekeepers and the federal government became involved through the Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA), equivalent to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Research Service, this year celebrating its 50th anniversary.  The first strictly beekeeping cooperative was formed in 1993 (Cooperativa Apícola de Toay).  It was followed by Cooperativa Apícola de Winifreda in 1999.  The number of beekeepers in La Pampa province grew from 498 in 1990 to 1,200 in 2001 while the number of colonies increased from 57,270 to 170,000 respectively.  Production has been variable during the period, from 60 kilograms (132 lbs) in 1990 to a low of 35 kilograms (77 lbs), but total honey production has gradually risen from 3,436 to 7,000 tons.


La Pampa province includes two geographic regions, the steppe to the east and the hill country on its western boundary with is neighboring state Mendoza, which encompasses the eastern side the Andean mountain range.  In the steppe are found large the major forage crops, grown mainly for livestock food.  The hill country contains more trees and shrubs.  Traditionally, the steppe had the largest number of beekeeping outfits in the province, over 90% in 1990, but that has been reduced to 70 % in 2001.  This is only one province of course and represents 11% of the country’s total production, third after the provinces of Buenos Aires itself (58% of production) and Córdoba (14% of production) to its north.


Agentina’s honey production continues to increase over time.  The country produced 45.6 thousand tons in 1990.  This more than doubled to 93 thousand tons by the year 2000.  Over 90% of the crop is exported to the United States and Germany.  


There have been some huge challenges to Argentinian beekeeping in recent years.  In the 1990s, it was reported that American foulbrood had become resistant to Terramycin®, the first report of this phenomenon anywhere in the world after almost 40 years of use of this material as a prophylactic.2   The U.S. beekeeping industry was also successful in reducing honey importation through legal means, when Argentina and China were both declared by the World Trade Commission to be dumping product at lower than costs of production.3  Finally, Argentine honey contaminated with a class of antibiotics called nitrofurans was detected in Canada4 and Australia.5  During the same period, the Argentinian economic crises deepened after a precipitous 70 % devaluation in the currency.


It has just been reported that this year’s Argentine honey crop appears to be 30% below average.6  Because it is in the southern hemisphere the production season is our fall and winter.  This is good for the world market as prices will probably move up, but of course will affect many of Argentina’s beekeepers in a negative way. 


Unlike in the United States, many beekeepers in Argentina are fairly young.  Most range in age from  30 to 50 years old  in La Pampa province.   The country boasts some of the best educational and informational efforts of any beekeeping industry in Latin America that I know of.  Several paper journals are available, including one called Espacio Apícola.  I was interviewed for that magazine by its editor during an international congress a few years ago.  Most remarkable is the suite of electronic information resources beekeepers can take advantage of by using the World Wide Web.  These can be found by entering the word “apicultura,” in the Argentine search engine: http://www.todoar.com.ar.


At the top of the list is the porta apícola (apiculture portal):   http://www.apicultura.entupc.com/.  This Web Site sports a periodic newsletter that is sent to subscribers and a list of recent and archived articles on many topics.   For example, it is reported that this year’s San Francisco convention complete with exhibition saw fewer visitors than normal.  A rather complete description of the current beekeeping situation in Uruguay, which in 1998 had 7,023  colonies and the number has grown to 263,605 hives in 2001, reveals that for this country production peaked in 2004, falling in 2005.  A total of 1,176 beekeepers responded to the portal’s honey questionnaire in April, with 67% believing the price would increase soon.


The Api-Guia electronic portal, dubbed “The First Commercial Directory of the Argentinian Beekeeping,” has an electronic newsletter that one can subscribe to and the Web site is also available in English and French:  This is the English version on the site itself:


  1. You are able to announce your needs of honey, pollen, royal jelly, bees-wax, propolis or any apiculture equipment free of charge.
  2. You may find out any company who is involved in some way with          apiculture commerce.
  3. You can make advertising of your merchandise.
  4. You can look up for dates & places of apicultures meetings & fairs in Argentina.
  5. You can see statistics of the Argentine honey market. You will have an answer to most of yours doubts or questions about the Argentinien (sic) beekeeping market.7


Unfortunately, you need to read Spanish to take full advantage of the Api-Guia electronic portal.  Perusing the exhibitions and fairs link reveals there are several expositions in June and July and at least one for every month through mid-October.  Perhaps the largest and most traditional is the Expomiel Azul 9-11 June, 2006, which features a movable extraction facility in a trailer, election of the national honey queen and a large array of exhibits. The Web site for thise event: http://www.expomielazul.com.ar/2006/index.php  also has a virtual tour of the exhibits.  In other words, you don’t have to attend to get an idea of what is being promoted.   They are available right from your office or home via your personal computer.  The event takes place in the town of Azul, east of Buenos Aires, thus its name.


Argentine beekeepers also have at their disposal a government program called the Proyecto Integrado de Desarrollo Apícola (PROAPI) under the auspices of INTA The project began in 1995 and in its first decade of operation provided beekeeping instruction to numerous groups, sponsored tours to  the U.S. and other countries including Germany, New Zealand, and Brazil, and implemented distance education initiatives. Dr. Enrique Bedascarrasbure invited me to attend a planning session when I was in the country in March.   The objective was to develop the budget for the next three years, until 2009 as part of a longer-range plan, which is expected to run for at least another decade with funding expected to be adopted for two additional three-year intervals, 2009 through 2012 and 2013 through 2016..


Some extremely ambitious goals were discussed and if implemented could put Argentinian honey bee research at the forefront in some critical areas.  This information would then be transferred to beekeepers to help them increase productivity.  Various subprojects were discussed in four general areas:


Honey quality:  This is a significant area given the country’s flirt with honey contamination by nitrofurans.  Potential for contamination and traceability of the product from hive to the packer is considered of utmost importance and will be given priority.  Because honey is shipped to Europe, especially Germany, where honey identity is important to consumers, there will be an effort to chemically characterize nectar and resultant honey in the various parts of the country.  INTA has published a booklet Florida Apícola del Delta del Paraná, a practical guide to recognizing important bee plants in the region where the Paraná river empties into the Río de La Plata, some 20 miles northeast of Buenos Aires.


Germ Plasm:  The Africanized honey bee exists in the northern part of the country, but does not seem to have invaded much of the traditional European honey bee areas in the humid pampa, perhaps because of lower temperatures.  In addition, there has been a significant effort to introduce European stock into the more tropical northeast and northwest to blunt the effects of the Africanized bee.  This effort will incorporate knowledge from other studies around the world to identify heritable characteristics (hygienic behavior and Varroa tolerance) that can be introduced into the current stock to improve productivity.  One of the areas to be looked at is the difference that appears to exist in the Argentinian Africanized honey bee population with reference to mite tolerance when compared to that of Brazil.


Integrated Pest Management:  Like elsewhere in the world, the two most important conditions that adversely affect beekeeping are Varroa destructor and American foulbrood.  Developing best management practices to help control populations of both of these is a must in any beekeeping endeavor.  In addition, studies on more traditional diseases like nosema are being considered.


Nutrition:  Little is known about honey bee nutrition in the country.  Projects in this area will seek to characterize the relative protein content of various pollens in Argentina and determine how this relates to current bee management practices.  This is a critical topic in bee research around the world, and significant advances in knowledge in this area would be an important contribution to the beekeeping literature.


Pollination:  A commercial pollination enterprise is beginning to be established in the country.  Plants requiring honey bee pollination are mostly those that we see in the U.S., including fruits and nuts (almonds, apples and kiwis), vegetables (cucumber, squash, watermelon), forages and seeds (red clover, alfalfa), and oil-producers (sunflower, soybean and rape, the source of canola).  Systems need to be developed to help both beekeepers and growers get the most out of honey bee pollination.


Several of these projects have been written up in INTA’s October 2003 edition of  IDIAxxi, Revista de Informacion Sobre Investigacion y Desarrollo Agropecuario.  This publication can be viewed directly on the World Wide Web.8


In summary, Argentinian beekeeping has a lot going for it, including a maturing history as one of the world market’s significant honey sources.  It also has in its favor a rather young labor force that is comfortable using electronic information, and an ongoing research and education initiative through the government to help beekeepers improve productivity. There’s much to suggest the Plate Republic will increasingly be a future force to reckon with in the global beekeeping community.




1.      Real. O, Marcelo.  2004.  La Apicultura en La Pampa, Publicación Técnica No. 85, Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria INTA, Noviembre.

2.       Sanford, Malcolm T. 1996. Fifth Ibero-Latin American Apicultural Congress meets in Mercedes, Uruguay, June, Excerpted in Bee Biz Nos. 4-5-6, 1997. <http://apis.ifas.ufl.edu/papers/FIFTH.HTM#5>, accessed May 19, 2006.

3.      Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Web site: <http://www.rmfu.org/News/Stories/ShowFeature.cfm?ID=89>, accessed May 19, 2006.

4.      Canadian Honey Council Web site: <http://www.honeycouncil.ca/users/Folder.asp?FolderID=4753&NewsID=339>, accessed May 19, 2006.

5.      Sydney Morning Herald, November 7,2003 <http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/16/1068917675774.html?from=storyrhs>.

6.      American Honey Producers Association Web site, <http://www.americanhoneyproducers.org/>, accessed May 19, 2006.

7.      <http://www.api-guia.com.ar/>, accessed May 19, 2006.

8.      <http://www.inta.gov.ar/ediciones/idia/alt/api.htm>, accessed May 19, 2006.