Washington Beekeepers Granted Farmer Status

Published September 14, 2015

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) signed Senate Bill 6057 in July, officially recognizing commercial beekeepers as farmers in the State of Washington.

The law grants more than a dozen tax breaks to industries, including a provision granting beekeepers the same tax status as other agricultural producers.

State Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) sponsored the bipartisan legislation, which will exempt beekeepers from state business taxes on money they collect for pollination services or by selling their products, such as honey and beeswax. They also will be exempt from sales taxes for production expenses related to keeping hives healthy, such as feed and parasite treatments.

The Washington State Beekeepers Association (WSBA) praised the decision.

“It has been a long hard fight to get this done,” WSBA President Mark Emrich said. “The WSBA has been trying to get this amendment passed since 2007. We were the only state that had beekeepers designated as service providers and not agricultural.” 

Ties to Farming

Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center and a beekeeper, gave his perspective, noting the law applies only to those who earn more than $10,000 in annual revenue from beekeeping, which is more than a hobbyist or part-time beekeeper would earn.

“Beekeepers who earn at this level are likely to sell pollination services, which provide the tie to farming services,” said Myers. “That is the logic of counting large-scale beekeepers as farmers.”

More Keepers, More Bees

Supporters of the legislation say the tax breaks come at an opportune time, as beekeeping numbers have been dwindling nationwide because of a mysterious honeybee die-off called colony collapse disorder.

“With the great losses beekeepers have had since 2006, any support we get will help,” Emrich said.

“It is an example of the free-market principle that if you want more of something, reduce the cost,” Myers said. “If you want more beekeepers, you should make it less expensive to become a beekeeper.

“The solution to increased hive mortality due to a range of problems—of which colony collapse disorder is just one—is more beekeepers,” said Myers. “Although more hives are now dying over winter, the total number of hives and bees has been increasing for a few years now, suggesting beekeepers like me are finding ways to increase the population despite increased risk.

“That’s where the solutions will come from: beekeepers on the ground, not government bureaucrats,” Myers said. “If reducing taxes on beekeepers helps increase the number of hives and beekeepers, then it will do more to help honeybees than political promises and government programs.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.