What's the buzz in the Capitol? A tax cut for beekeepers

Wisconsin State Farmer
Honey production in Wisconsin totaled 3.48 million pounds in 2015, a 22 percent increase from the 2.86 million pounds produced in 2014.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers want to sweeten the deal for Wisconsin beekeepers. 

A proposal from Rep. Amy Loudenbeck and Sen. Steve Nass would eliminate state sales and use taxes on bees and equipment used by beekeepers.

Loudenbeck said at an Assembly committee hearing Tuesday that the bill would extend exemptions given to farmers to beekeepers and help address the rapidly declining bee population.

"Beekeeping is vital to agriculture in Wisconsin," she said, noting that bees help pollinate apple orchards and crops.

Under the bill, beekeepers wouldn't have to pay sales tax when they purchase bees and equipment such as hive boxes and beekeeper suits. It would reduce state tax revenues by an estimated $87,000 a year.

Democratic Rep. Fred Kessler said giving beekeepers a permanent tax exemption could sting and wondered if lawmakers should instead consider cracking down on pesticide use, which weakens bees.

Wisconsin Honey Producers Vice President Matt Laforge said while pesticides make bees more susceptible to parasite attacks, there are several factors contributing to decreased bee populations. He said the price of bees has increased $100 per colony in the 16 years he's been a beekeeper, and that the measure could spur more beekeeping across the state.

There are hundreds of beekeeping businesses in the state but thousands of "backyard beekeepers" with a few hives, he said.

Nass, a co-sponsor of the bill, is a hobby beekeeper himself. His spokesman, Mike Mikalsen, said Nass has been beekeeping for eight years and has five hives. His hives produced 90 pounds of honey last year, Mikalsen said, adding that Nass sold only about $600 of honey and gave most of it to friends and acquaintances.

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and Wisconsin Independent Businesses have registered in support of the measure. No organizations have registered against it.