All about Commercial Beekeeping in Alberta and Canada

Ontario Pollinator Health Action Plan

Lee Townsend

Overall things are good in the Canadian honeybee industry.  Colony and beekeeper numbers are up and the general health of our bees is good.  With what the majority of Canadian beekeepers are seeing so far this winter it looks like 2o16 will see even more colony increase from coast to coast.  Due to the mild winter I have yet to hear of a single commercial beekeeper that isn’t happy with his bees.

There are of course some issues before us as an industry that are cause for concern.  Varroa mite resistance to amitraz is of worry and there are no new products coming to replace it if resistance is found.  We still have a limited understanding of Nosema apis and ceranae, and there are no new products coming that will help us control it.  Small Hive Beetle is a great unknown as well, will it be an issue or will it not?  World honey prices are also a concern as we have seen the honey market drop around 30-40% since early 2015.  There are times that it feels like we are barely keeping ahead of widespread disaster as an industry, but we continue to work through these issues and thrive.

Sadly another of our challenges as an industry are the continuing misguided claims by the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) board of directors.  The Ontario government had called from comments on its “Pollinator Health Action Plan”, and on Monday we saw the OBA’s response.  Needless to say, it is full of fluff and little substance we’ve seen time and time again from them.

I don’t care to touch on the bulk of their letter, as much of it is nonsense.  A good example of this is on the second page where they claim that “the OBA concludes that the recent decline of Ontario honey bees can be traced to recent changes in agricultural practices on Ontario’s farmlands”.  These agricultural practices have been in place for over a decade and the issues seen by some Ontario beekeepers have only recently shown up.  As recently as 2012 Ontario beekeepers had a 12% winter loss which is less than their claimed normal loss rate of 15-20%.  You also have a beekeeping industry in Ontario that saw record honeybee colony numbers in 2014.  But why bring up facts when it doesn’t make for a good sob story.  For any of the conspiracy theorists reading this, all of this information can be obtained from Statistics Canada.

My issues with the OBA’s response happen to start on page 8, with their list of recommendations.  I fully agree that “habitat improvement” is important to all bee populations, both native and managed.  But what the OBA is proposing is unrealistic and very selfish.  They want to control what farmers grow on the land they own, on the taxpayers dollar of course.  They also want to restrict access to crop protection products used by farmers, with no mention of the pesticides these same beekeepers use in their hives (I must add used incorrectly by the beekeepers at times as well).  While it is unfortunate that crops that are not beneficial to honeybees are now grown in some areas of Ontario, but there is nothing stopping these beekeepers from loading their hives and finding suitable forage.  It does exist in Ontario, and beekeepers from across the world have been chasing forage for generations.  Why does the OBA board of directors feel it deserves special treatment especially when it will negatively affect farmers?

On page 9 and the OBA’s list of “Bees and Beekeeper” recommendations is where the true lunacy shows up:

  1. The OBA does not want mandatory training for beekeepers, but is demanding just that for farmers in Ontario.  The OBA claims that the OMAFRA’s inspection program is world class, yet less than 30% of all beekeepers in Ontario treat their bees for Nosema.  If their inspection and training program was in fact “world class”, you would see the majority of beekeepers treating for it.  You also have beekeepers in Ontario treating varroa mite incorrectly, which the OBA proudly promotes in this YouTube vide0.  It calls into question the competency of not only some beekeepers in Ontario, but also this self proclaimed world class inspection program.  It is abundantly clear that there is a serious lack of knowledge by some beekeepers in Ontario, and with their ever growing push for hobby/urban beekeepers, mandatory training programs should be a no brainer.  The OBA board remains adamant that farmers needs BMP training, and if the Ontario government is truly sincere about improving pollinator health this training needs to extend to beekeepers as well.
  2. The OBA would like to see the 30 meter property line restrictions removed.  This may “help” some beekeepers, but it will cause issues for urbanites/acreage owners/land owners alike.  Bees don’t respect property lines, and generally people that are unfamiliar with bees like to panic when they see colonies close to their homes.  I have a few yards that are closer than 30 meters neighbours property lines, and it tends to be a bigger problem than it is worth.
  3.  Freeze units and indoor wintering does not need more research.  The information is readily available from CAPA, CHC and the western provinces.  If only the OBA would drop the “we are better” attitude, they could access all of this data.  Why reinvent the wheel?
  4. I do support any educational resources for beekeepers, as it is one area our industry is lacking in.  Alberta used to have a commercial beekeeping course, but poor location and a lack of support led to its demise yet again.  There are many current commercial beekeepers in Alberta that took that course, and I am curious how many current commercial beekeepers in Ontario have taken the Niagara course.
  5. The National Bee Health Roundtable recommendations in bullet 19 is asinine.  When that group was formed, the OBA was invited to join but refused to due to ideological differences.  They have been whining about their decisions ever since, and now beg to be allowed on it (under their terms of course).  I do not see how a province that only represents 14% of the Canadian bee industry can believe they have the most to offer such a group, nor do I see how they should be allowed to dictate the membership of that group.  The roundtable is meant to represent all the active participants in bee health across Canada, not just Ontario.  I think Ontario should be at that table, but not on their terms.  The needs of the whole industry are the priority, and the OBA refuses to cooperate with that agenda time and time again.
  6. Bullet 20 is redundant.  The Canadian Honey Council is our national voice, and the OBA is a member.  If the OBA has a message it would like to send to the federal government, it needs to be through CHC.  The thought of the OBA representing beekeepers nationally is terrifying, and the comments by OBA members at the senate hearings that took place two years ago are all the proof anyone needs.
  7. The OBA has primarily become a urban/hobby organization, which is reinforced in bullet 21.  I do not support urban beekeeping at all.  Bees are complex creatures that take years of experience as well trial/error to manage properly.  To allow urban beekeeping to run rampant is dangerous to not only bee health in Ontario, but also to the comfort and safety of the general public.  My experience has been that urban beekeepers have massive losses each year due to poor hive management and this ineptness filters down to the health of commercial colonies (bees are social creatures that are great at spreading diseases and pests).  Unless the OBA supports mandatory beekeeper training, urban beekeeping should not be legalized.

The “Public awareness and education” portion of the OBA’s letter will be a drain on government resources and taxpayer dollars.  Sitting around singing “kumbaya” won’t do a damn thing for bee health.  It’s disgusting that the OBA thinks wasting resources on such a venture would be beneficial.

IF the OBA is serious about improving the success of their businesses and the health of their bees, they need to do the following:

  1. Spend the money to improve the equipment in their operations.  If you look at the equipment of the beekeepers making the most noise in Ontario, it is wore out and unfit for use by bees.  Having supers and frames that are decades old is not a badge of honour or something to be proud of, it is stupidity.
  2. Move colonies out of regions where no suitable bee forage exists.  This not a new concept, and has been done by beekeepers across the world for generations.  If my bees were in a region where there were no nutritional beneficial crops around, intelligence dictates one of two options.  Move your hives to regions with suitable forage, or buy the land from the farmers and grow whatever the hell you want.  The OBA is not open to either of those options, so why punish everyone else for their ignorance?
  3. Create mandatory workshops for all beekeepers in Ontario on current beekeeping management.  The Canadian bee industry looks nothing like it did a decade ago, and the successful beekeepers are the ones that adapted and improved.  When the OBA’s former president testified to the Canadian Senate that “beekeeping has not changed much in the past 100 years”, you know there is a knowledge gap by some in that province.
  4. Join the National bee health roundtable, and contribute to it.  Making demands, getting angry, and pouting like a child only hurts your cause.  You get further in life with sugar than you do with shit, and the OBA hasn’t figured that out yet.
  5. Open a dialogue with the provincial organizations in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  We are anything but perfect, but the issues seen in Ontario are the same issues that we have dealt with or are currently dealing with out west.
  6. Change up the current board of directors.  Their message is stagnant and not beneficial to anyone in Ontario or  Canada.  It might be time to review their bylaws as well, as right now only 5 out of 14 board members are needed to form a quorum.  If you look at the current OBA board, you will see quite quickly who is driving the OBA message.

The Canadian honeybee industry is thriving, and that includes many beekeepers in Ontario.  It would help all beekeepers across the country if the OBA chose to work with us rather than against us.  Until this happens, the OBA will be alone on this.

 

 

Lee Townsend
Lee Townsend

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