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Spring 2013

A skid-steer loader to buzz about

Beekeeper Bert Honl purchased two new Bobcat S570 skid-steer loaders to help lift, carry and place crates to transport his beehives.

Beekeeper Bert Honl purchased two new Bobcat S570 skid-steer loaders to help lift, carry and place crates to transport his beehives.

Beekeeper liked new M-Series skid-steer loader so much that he bought a second unit a month later

Like many family-owned agricultural enterprises, Honl Bees followed a typical path in acquiring Bobcat® skid-steer loaders over the years: first there was a 743, followed by a 753 and then an S150, all purchased several years apart. Last year that all changed when co-owner Bert Honl decided the new S570 was so good that he purchased not just one, but two of the new machines.

“I had been waiting for an M-Series version of the 500-size models and was eager to buy one,” he says. “Less than a month after purchasing the first unit, I bought a second machine. That wasn’t my original plan, but some end-of-the-year tax advantages and the fact that I came to like the M-Series features so quickly made for an easy decision.”

Handling beehives

Aside from handling snow in winter and some occasional construction projects, the Bobcat loaders are used almost exclusively to load and unload beehives. The size (6,000 colonies) and scope (Minnesota, Texas and California) of the Honl operation keep the loaders working most of the year.

“Each wooden beehive is probably loaded and unloaded 15 to 20 times,” Honl says. “It has to be done carefully and our two vertical-lift-path S570 loaders have brought a new dimension to this relatively simple but important task.”

The forward design of the cab and the increased visibility provided by more glass are very helpful when Honl is handling a pallet full of beehives.

“Nothing is more critical than being able to see everything around me,” he says, “especially when I have an employee standing near the pallet of hives with a smoker device trying to calm the bees. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, I appreciate the largest cab in the business. There’s plenty of room; it’s a lot quieter, too.”

Honl’s machine is equipped with Selectable Joystick Controls (SJC) which include a foot throttle. “The hand controls and the foot throttle are the best things going for a beekeeper. I can pick up a pallet and idle the machine as I set it on the truck. It’s as smooth as can be and a big help in reducing fuel costs.”

Three generations of beekeeping

The third-generation business was started in 1924 by Al Honl. His sons Randy and Gary took over and today two of Randy’s sons — Bert and Jesse — run the Winthrop, Minn., company. In addition to the pair of S570 loaders, the brothers still have the S150 and the 753, which stay at their 30-acre property in Texas.

As members of the Sioux Honey Association, the company delivers its entire product to the Iowa cooperative, which markets Sue Bee honey.

“This has been a good business for our family,” Honl says. “In order to be successful, we have relied on premium equipment, such as Bobcat loaders, for decades. Our two new M-Series machines continue to demonstrate that Bobcat sets the standard for the skid-steer loader industry.”

Year-round buzz

The year-round schedule, with the hives being loaded and unloaded at every stop, includes:

  • May: The hives are moved on trucks to 170 different locations on farms throughout southern Minnesota.
  • October: Hives are picked up by trucks from summer sites and subsequently loaded on semitrailers for transport to the Huntsville, Texas, area where they are spread out across multiple locations.
  • February: The hives are sent by semitrailer to Fresno, Calif., where almond growers rent them for pollination. Five or six weeks later they return to Texas.
  • May: The bees come back to Minnesota to start the cycle all over again.