Sanpete County's 1991 bee colonies worked harder than ever but produced only 80,000 pounds of honey, a third less than their usual production.

R. Lynn Nielson, the county's bee inspector, blames the dropoff on aerial spraying with pesticides over large areas of farmland that forced beekeepers to avoid them; a shortened blossoming season because of late spring frosts; and the drought that kept some land out of production.Some of the colonies, he says, were able to gather only enough pollen to keep them over the winter. In fact, some of the hives, he adds, will probably have to be fed sugar water.

According to Nielson, Sanpete has around 20 beekeepers, some of them hobbyists who keep two or three hives in their orchards, while others produce honey as a sideline that helps pay the taxes. Only two are commercial beekeepers.

Robert Graham, Spring City, is the largest commercial producer, with around 500 hives in 36 apiaries. Most of his crop, he says, goes to feed Utah's sweet tooth, but some is shipped overseas.

Poaching isn't a problem, Nielson says - "nobody's going to run off with a hive in the back seat of his car" - but disease is. It can usually be controlled by medication, but can sometimes require the destruction of a colony.