New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Thompson Apiaries recognized by national beekeepers' cooperative


September 30, 2019

Lonnie Thompson received the award on behalf of Thompson Apiaries. Photo courtesy of Sioux Honey Association.

Update 10/5/19- An Employee of Thomson Apiaries was inadvertently missed from the list. Kyle Quinton is also on the staff. We apologize for the omission.

Thompson Apiaries, Inc. of New Rockford received the prestigious Member of the Year award from the Sioux Honey Association, Cooperative. The award was presented at the cooperative's annual convention in Sioux City, Iowa on Monday, Sept. 16.

Thompson Apiaries was nominated by Dan Bauer of Fertile, Minn., the District 8 Director for the cooperative. Each year members nominate each other for the award, and the Board of Directors chooses one member from among the nominees.

Lonnie and Lisa Thompson headed for Sioux City immediately after the Homecoming Coronation on Monday morning and arrived in time for the awards ceremony. After a short overnight stay, they drove back to New Rockford on Tuesday.

For the Thompsons, beekeeping is a family tradition. O.J. Thompson Apiaries was founded in the 1960s by Lonnie's parents, Orrin James Thompson and his wife Elaine. A native of Thief River Falls, Minn., Orrin became familiar with honeybees while working for his brother-in-law in the family's beekeeping business. After working in various areas of Minnesota and North Dakota, Orrin decided to strike out on his own after seeing opportunity in the New Rockford and Carrington areas. The young couple chose New Rockford as the site to start their new venture. Elaine recalls, "We liked the community beautification, the parks and the pool."

The honey they collected in the New Rockford area was hauled to Minnesota for processing until the extracting facilities could be completed in New Rockford. In 1970, O.J. Thompson Apiaries joined the Sioux Honey Association.

Orrin, Elaine and their three children – Susan, Lonnie and Melissa – then began migrating to Woodville, Texas each spring in order to raise bees for the coming season. Lonnie remembers attending two schools, in New Rockford in the fall and winter, then Texas in the spring. He spent each year of his education that way, until his senior year when he decided to stay in New Rockford and graduate here. After a short one-year stint at NDSU, Lonnie came back home to help his father.

In 2000, the Thompsons added a new adventure to their beekeeping business. They sent bees to California to help pollinate the almond crop. Now, each year the bees "make a loop" from Texas in the spring to North Dakota for the summer and fall, then head to California in October. Lonnie said the pollination job helps strengthen the business by giving them needed revenue from fall freeze-up to spring thaw.

Orrin died in October 2002 from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which he battled for five years. Orrin taught Lonnie all aspects of the business. He also enjoyed fishing, hunting, gardening, and spending time with his family.

After Orrin's passing, Elaine and Lonnie took over ownership of the business and incorporated it as Thompson Apiaries, Inc.

In 2003, Lonnie began hiring migrant workers through the H-2A visa program. The H-2A program allows U.S. employers or U.S. agents who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary agricultural jobs. Thompson's workers come from South Africa. Currently he has three H-2A workers here in New Rockford- Paul, Rudolph and Hennie. They come in March and work until the beginning of November, when they travel home to South Africa for the winter.

Lonnie manages all aspects of the business with the help of his wife, Lisa, and valued employees Jesse Schuster, Mitch Bjerke and Dennis Gehrtz. Lonnie and the employees still migrate to Texas each year and continue to be active in the Sioux Honey Association.

Sue Honey Association is a cooperative based in Sioux City, Iowa with 257 members. The cooperative was founded by five beekeepers in 1921 and is the only honey cooperative in the United States. According to Mark Mammen, President & CEO, currently there are members in 11 districts throughout the United States. Thompson Apiaries is part of District 7, which is comprised of all the members in North Dakota and a handful of members in Canada. Bob Morlock of Morlock Honey Farms, LLC in Casselton is the representative for District 7, and he presented Thompson with the award at the convention.

Sioux Honey Association serves customers throughout the United States with a variety of branded products, including Sue Bee and Aunt Sue's.

"It's not just where your honey comes from that matters. It's who," stated Rob Buhmann, chair of the co-op. "We know each of our 270 plus beekeepers by name. Whether they're tending to hives in the Dakota prairies or on the Hawaiian Islands, our co-op members make decisions based on what's best for our honey and what's best for the families who buy our honey."

Buhmann encourages consumers to keep an eye out for both the "Grade A" and "Product of the U.S.A." designations when purchasing honey. "Grade A" is the highest grade awarded by the USDA and "Product of the U.S.A." is a guarantee of the country of origin. Combined, the labels confirm honey is pure, with nothing added, and of the highest quality, according to Buhmann. 


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