DID YOU KNOW that the United States has be come a honey-dumping ground of the world? That's what Richard Adee, of Bruce, S.D., says, and he ought to know: he's vice president of the 650-member American Honey Producers Association. "Our big markets are lost," he says, "and it appears the government program will take about 75 million pounds of our 220-million-pound crop." The solution, according to Mr. Adee, is simple: raise the current 1-cent-per- pound import tariff on honey to 10 cents.

One's first reaction is amazement: does the United States really produce 220 million pounds of honey a year? Can it be true that there are government warehouses filled with leaking containers of sticky honey? Is there really a beekeepers' lobby? Will they, if things get really sticky, demonstrate en masse on Capitol Hill, covered with protective netting and accompanied by swarming hives?

The advocate of the beekeepers' bill, Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), assures one and all that while he is "usually not this much of a protectionist," this issue is different. Bees, it turns out, are useful not only for making honey but for pollinating all kinds of crops as well--from apples to alfalfa to avocados. Beekeepers lease out their bee colonies to other farmers, who want to have their crops pollinated. If you make the bee business unprofitable, the beekeepers' lobby says, then you won't have many beekeepers, and a lot of crops that need to be pollinated won't be. Give us a little more protection, and everything will be fine.

Maybe so. But we wonder what happened here to the old law of supply and demand. A farmer with a field full of potential avocados should be willing to pay a beekeeper whatever the traffic will bear to get some bees in there to pollinate his crops; otherwise he won't have many avocados to sell. Increased costs can be passed along to consumers, as they usually are. Perhaps there's something special here about the market mechanisms that makes protection necessary. But do the beekeepers really need a 10-cent sweetener?