Defining Relevant Beekeeping Regions

We’ve been thinking of changing up the arbitrary HiveCheck reporting regions based on feedback from respondents, and our own pressure to make more significant beekeeping “zones” that have both climate and cultural relatedness specifically for beekeepers. Last week we asked our HiveCheck respondents to give us a hand in this pretty important task and this post details the process.

Step 1) A Starting Point

For any new project it’s important to get your hypothesis down on paper to test against in later exercises. So where to start? We needed a basic grouping of states that had enough relevant attributes to beekeepers to qualify them for a “region”. The most basic, and probably the most important, attribute to look at is climate so we started there.

Heading over to the USDA’s Revised Plant Hardiness Zone Map we can get a pretty clear picture of the high and low extremes across the U.S.. Interestingly, the revised version of the map from 2012 is the first revision since 1990 and there are some stark differences.

The temperature data from the 2012 Plant Hardiness Map has been taken from more recent years (1976 – 2005) and the map itself is entirely GIS which includes higher resolution and better accuracy. Of course climate change may be a factor but the methods used in generating the Hardiness Zone Map most likely is not the best tool to measure that.

None the less, this proved as a great starting point and we eyeballed basic color distributions in each state to make the initial groupings.

We also wanted to take into consideration Ayers & Harman’s Honey Bee Forage Map from 1992. This map is broken into 14 regions which is primarily based on forage types in each region which we used to compare states within the same climate zone to help make some tougher decisions. We did not use this data across climate regions since states like Montana and Texas may be in the same foraging zone but are certainly worlds apart when it comes to seasons.

Here’s what we came up with to start:

New England: ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, NY, RI

Mid Atlantic: PA, DE, NJ, MD, VA, WV

Souther Region: NC, SC, GA, FL, AL, LA, MS, TX

Western Tier: WA, OR, ID, CA, NV, UT, AZ, NM

Middle Interior: OH, KY, TN, IN, IL, MO, KS, AR, OK

North Mid West: MT, WY, CO, ND, SD, NE, MN, IA, WI, MI


Step 2) Test It

So how do we know if we’re on the right track? Last week our HiveCheck respondents were asked “Which states other than your own are you most interested in seeing data from?”. As a result we got more 400 recommendations for states with a significant relation to a respondent’s own state. We simply ran each pair (respondents state and requested state) across our initial state groupings to find how much we were in agreement with over 280 beekeepers. If both the respondent’s state and the requested state were in the same region we considered that an agreement, anything else was a disagreement.

Initial Agreement Score: 79%
80/20 consistently applies to all things and numbers, it never ceases to amaze me… We can certainly strive for better though, to improve the results we compared the frequency of non-matching state pairs to see if there were any specific patterns.

These were the top states that respondents asked for that were not in a matching region. Note (We only looked at states with 3 or more hits)

Respondent’s State: { Requested States}
NC : {‘TN’: 9, VA’: 10,}
VA : {‘NC’: 7, ‘MD’: 3}
NY : {‘PA’: 6, ‘NJ’: 4}
TN : {‘NC’: 3, ‘MS’: 4, ‘AL’: 4, ‘GA’: 3}

It was fun to see some states really liked each other like NC/VA, but what about the states who’d be lonely if we moved a state from one region to another? Luckily we had the statistical model so we cold simply move states around and see how are score changed. In theory, if we moved a state out of a group where it was already popular our agreement score would go down. If we made a better match the score would go up.

Here’s what we found

Moving Virginia from  Mid Atlantic to Southern Tier : +2% Score
Moving New York from New England to Mid Atlantic: + 2% Score
Moving Tennessee from Mid Interior to Southern: +5%

Tennessee was a big surprise, considering it was not as polarized as NC or VA. I think this data really shows the cultural ties between states which is an important factor in making meaningful beekeeping regions. I’m happy to say our final agreement score was 88%, not bad at all.

What’s Next

Coming up, we’ll be implementing these new regions in our HiveCheck reporting starting this week. We’ll also be reviewing comments from our respondents and the public about the changes to continue getting feedback. Feel free to leave comments on this post and let us know what you think!

Written By: Alex Jones

Michael Wilson has written 13 post in this blog.

  • David

    The American Bee Journal long ago divided up the Country into regions for honey crop reporting. Those are still relevant.
    As a Wisconsin beekeeper, states that are relevant include: MN, IL, MI IN, OH, NY. West of MN is prairie and mountain beekeeping. Very different than the Great Leaks states

    • Alexander Jones

      David, thanks for letting us know about the ABJ map, I will reach out to them. I hear you on the paries vs mountain which was a consideration. We’re Focusing primarily on Growing Degree Days for major relevancy with regards to the basic timing of certain questions and data in the HiveCheck program. We’ll be doing a follow up survey after a few rounds to see if these regions need to be revisited. Make sure to give us your feedback!

    • Alexander Jones

      Hey David, just heard back from ABJ and they’ll be sharing a copy of their map from the Honey Crop and Market Column. They did say that our maps were only slightly dissimilar and that the ABJ’s map was made somewhat arbitrarily about 50 years ago. I will test against our model to see if I can find higher scores with some of the ABJ map differences.

  • Bill W

    The plant hardiness zones place me , in western NC, in the same zones as eastern Pa and up through CT. Having kept bees in PA, CT and now NC I think that there are similarities in honey plants but there is no comparison in the winters. I know that many states have similar variations in weather and hopefully you will be able to adjust some of the groupings for that situation.

    • Alexander Jones

      Bill, thanks for articulating my frustrations as well 🙂 Yes, the climate zones are a starting point and based on the data NC is more in Zone 8. It’s placement also ranked high in agreement for the Southern Tier which is why we included it there.

      • Bill W

        I can understand that small areas of many states have much different climates making it difficult to include all. I felt that choosing TN, VA and KY would be correct for me but not other s. Is it possible to access the statistics and the beekeepers comments from those areas within this program?

  • Spruill

    Being a statistician I can appreciate the work you did to correlate how to put states into regions. However, how someone response has as much to do with WHERE inside a state the individuals are responding. For example, those in western NC (like myself) would probably rather see data from TN than FL. As Bill W. pointed out, we have more in common with PA than with GA or FL regarding bee climate and seasons. I, for one, would rather see NC in the mid-Atlantic as opposed to moving VA to the South.

  • woodrt

    I live and keep bees in Oregon, you have us with the western tier, I can tell you that our weather and nectar sources are nothing like CA, NM, AZ. Way can we not have a PNW region, WA, OR and ID are very similar.

  • Nancy

    Although, I replied that I thought NY ought to be with PA, I meant that PA ought to added to NY, not the other way around. If NY is added to the Mid-Atlantic region set, then that wouldn’t work for me since I am in the extreme eastern, northern part of NY and my climate is definitely more like New England. Will one be able to select which region to be associated with? Thanks

  • Redtailowl

    I too was dismayed to see the lumping of WA, OR, ID, CA, NV, UT, AZ, NM. It seems that you should differentiate regions with a real winter (i.e., below freezing on a regular basis) from coastal climates. Desert climates also stand out as unique. Perhaps too complex to start breaking a single state into several regions, but it would be more representative of what beekeepers are doing in each region at a given time of year. Here’s a suggestion:
    West Coast: Coastal CA, WA, OR
    NW Inland: Inland WA and OR, ID
    SW Desert: Inland CA, NV, AZ, NM

  • Greenmantle

    In upstate NY, I align myself to New England, since I am on the Vermont /Mass. border. Upstate has a different growing season than downstate. Is it possible to have more flexibility than political boundaries? I appreciate the new perspective you are providing.

  • jerry shue

    I think an Intermountain region is essential, although personally I think a High Plateaus region would be most helpful to me here on the Colorado Plateau in Moab, UT. I don’t feel we have much in common with the Mediterranean cycle of the west coast.

  • Debbie

    As Greenmantle said below, being in upstate New York in the western Catskills I would not consider this area being part of the midlantic region. Weather, temperature and the seasonal changes are at different times than downstate or midlantic areas. Having lived in New Jersey there doesn’t seem to be any similiarity to upstate New York. Thanks for all you do.

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