All about Commercial Beekeeping in Alberta and Canada

Statistics Canada “Canadian Honeybee Industry” Annual Report 2014

Lee Townsend

On December 9, 2014, Statistics Canada released its annual “Production and value of honey” report for 2014 (http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/a26lang=eng&retrLang=eng&id=10007&pattern=&tabMode=dataTable&srchLan=-1&p1=1&p2=-1).  For many this is a great report as it releases the current data for the Canadian honeybee industry.  This data is acquired from all the Provincial Apiarists in Canada in the fall of the reported year.  As expected the numbers for 2014 verify what many of us expected, which was continued growth on all fronts:

Figure 1:
Geography1= Canada2
 
Estimates 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Beekeepers3 7,695 7,313 6,931 7,028 7,403 7,713 8,312 8,489 8,777
Colonies3 628,401 589,254 570,070 592,120 620,291 637,920 690,037 667,397 694,217
Production of honey, total (pounds x 1,000)4 106,599 69,402 64,895 70,362 81,672 79,824 90,759 76,468 81,556
Value of honey, total (dollars x 1,000)5 111,255 84,916 105,184 126,253 144,197 150,691 176,206 181,283 201,620

 

As you can see (Figure 1), the number of beekeepers in Canada has risen 32% since 2009.  The number of colonies is also up by 16% in that same period of time.  2013 saw a drop in hives numbers but it rebounded and actually increased 4% this past year.

 

Figure 2:

Geography1= Alberta
 
Estimates 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Beekeepers3 733 726 620 683 769 798 883 890 930
Colonies3 254,000 237,000 226,000 251,000 266,000 274,600 278,400 278,100 282,000
Production of honey, total (pounds x 1,000)4 46,736 28,914 25,990 29,116 34,580 34,050 38,000 33,200 34,404
Value of honey, total (dollars x 1,000)5 46,375 29,627 37,755 48,837 56,230 59,168 68,340 72,905 78,602

 

When we look at Alberta, which accounts for 45% of the colonies and honey production in Canada, there has been similar growth.  In 2006 Alberta experienced higher than average wintering losses.  This was due to a number of factors such as the varroa mite, nosema, climate, management practices, etc.  As a result of these higher losses and a lack of explanation as to why, the Alberta Beekeepers Commission, Alberta Agriculture and the seed canola industry developed a “Bee Health Program” in 2009.  This program aided beekeepers with extension services in order to diagnose what was wrong with their hives during the active season as well as educate those same beekeepers on how to improve their integrated management practices (IPM).  During the duration of this 4 year program we saw improved colony health as well as more educated and progressive beekeepers.  The numbers in Figure 2 are evidence of this programs success.

 

Figure 3:

Geography1= Ontario
 
Estimates 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Beekeepers3 2,400 2,300 2,200 2,500 2,600 2,900 3,200 3,155 3,262
Colonies3 76,700 76,700 80,000 82,000 83,150 90,000 101,000 97,500 112,800
Production of honey, total (pounds x 1,000)4 8,287 5,968 4,586 5,730 8,814 9,023 9,439 6,363 8,192
Value of honey, total (dollars x 1,000)5 11,870 9,354 9,190 14,133 20,379 22,537 23,815 20,362 30,310

 

Now lets take a look at what happened in Ontario during the same time period.  What stands out is that Ontario hasn’t had a “catastrophic” reduction in colony numbers.  Beekeepers in that province have actually seen consistent growth each year with the exception of 2013, when hive numbers dropped by %3.5.  This was quickly remedied in 2014 as Ontario’s hive numbers increased by 14% from 2013 and 11% from 2012.  What I found extremely interesting was the number of beekeepers in Ontario, which have risen by 33% since 2008.  Although the Ontario bee industry primarily consists of hobby beekeepers (only 247 out of the 3262 in Ontario are considered commercial), this increase in both the number of beekeepers and colonies just goes to show how resilient beekeepers are in that province.

If I was an outsider looking at these numbers, I’d be led to believe that the Canadian honeybee industry is flourishing and would be confused by the media reports of its demise.  Numbers alone don’t tell the whole story, but they are a good indicator how an industry is faring.

It’s true that we continue to struggle with pests, diseases, and weather.  It’s also true that some beekeepers in eastern Canada have had issues with neonicotinoid exposure during the seeding of corn and soybeans.  Wintering losses continue to be a huge factor as well.  Since 2007 Canada’s overwintering losses have been 29%, 35%, 34%, 21%, 29%, 15%, 28% and finally 25%, as per the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists annual “Colony Loss Reports” (http://capabees.org/) .  Despite all of the obstacles thrown at us, of which they are many, we continue to grow and thrive.

As a commercial beekeeper, it’s beyond frustrating when all that’s being reported is how neonicotinoids are a beekeepers primary concern and how the industry as a whole is facing the “beepocaolypse”.  If even a quarter of the time and money spent on the neonic debate was committed towards finding better controls for the varroa mite and nosema apis/ceranae, we’d have even more success stories from within the beekeeping industry.  And that’s scratching the surface, as replacement stock, nutrition, and disease controls are also in dire need of attention.

Instead of focusing in on those beekeepers that can’t seem to figure out their problems without blaming neonics, it’s time to highlight those beekeepers that are successful and what they have been doing to achieve that success.  These beekeepers are found in each and every Canadian province.  You just have to open your eyes and minds.

 

 

Lee Townsend
Lee Townsend

Leave a Reply