All about Commercial Beekeeping in Alberta and Canada

Let’s End The Stupidity Now

Lee Townsend

On July 19th, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) released their yearly report regarding overwintering losses.  For those that wish to read the report in detail, it can be found on the CAPA website and it is worth reviewing.  Once again, it clearly indicates that the Canadian Honeybee industry is continuing to thrive.

Those that responded to the survey represented 61.5% of all colonies that went into winter last fall, and the national winter loss was 16.8%.  PEI had the highest wintering loss at 24.37% while Newfoundland and Labrador was the lowest at 7.69%.  The suspected causes for these losses were poor queens, starvation, varroa, weak colonies in the fall and nosema.  It was great to see Ontario only had losses of 17.93%, but I’m curious as to why their losses were much lower this year than in years past.  Granted there is a new neonicotinoid policy in that province, but it didn’t take effect until 2016.  It’s also interesting that for the second straight year that Ontario did not list pesticide/chemical exposure as one of their causes for overwintering losses.

While I went into a great deal of detail regarding the 2014 Overwintering loss report, what needs to be conveyed now is that there is no “beepocolypse” in Canada.  Honeybees are thriving in this country, as they have been for over a decade.  From time to time there are issues that arise which can negatively affect bee health, but each time this has happened it has been isolated and usually can be traced back to a combination of factors.  Varroa, Nosema, genetics, nutrition, climate and even agrochemicals have contributed to honeybee losses.  Throw some piss poor beekeeping into the mix and you know why bees die (and we’ve all been guilty of PPB at some point).  Despite the obstacles, our industry has grown to record numbers.

The amount of time, money, and energy wasted in Canada since 2012 on the topic of neonicotinoids and honeybees has done absolutely nothing to benefit the Canadian bee industry.  The real issues before Canadian beekeepers are:

  1. Bee Health – This applies to everything from pests and diseases, to nutrition, genetics and even to the impact of agrochemical exposure (both from beekeepers applying these chemicals and primary agriculture).  We have a limited amount of tools available to us in order to deal with the diseases and pests impacting bees, and more work is needed.  The same goes for nutrition and genetics, as we are expecting an insect not native to Canada to survive 6 months of harsh winter.
  2. Replacement Stock – The majority of beekeepers import stock, whether it be package bees or queens, from outside of Canada.  It seems to be more difficult each year to access the required volume and quality of this bee stock, and very little work is being done on improving that.  While there are some beekeepers that claim to be self sufficient and do not purchase any outside bee stock, they are rare.  Those doing it successfully are even rarer, and kudos to those that are.  But for many of us, it is not a viable option.
  3. Food Safety – Canada is renowned for having some of the highest quality honey in the world, and our industry has both a food safety and biosecurity program that would immediately help improve the product we produce even further.  Implementation has been slow, and again more resources are needed to help producers incorporate these programs into their operations.
  4. Honey Marketing – This is not a new issue in Canada, but it has become a critical one for us recently.  In the past 12-16 months Canada has seen the honey market drop by up to 50% of where it was in late 2014/early 2015.  For some beekeepers this drop has been below cost of production, which is not sustainable.
  5. Labour – Beekeeping is labour intensive, and automation is not a option for many of the tasks we do.  We are dependant on our workforce coming from not only Canada, but also other regions of the world.  With the changes the Canadian government has made to the Foreign Worker Programs, the challenge to hire quality employees has grown.  Again, our resources have been limited in dealing with this issue.

These are the real issues facing Canadian beekeepers, not the imaginary neonicotinoid “issue” that the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA) has been claiming since 2012.  I have bees on corn, and so do beekeepers across Canada without issue.  80% of Canada’s colonies are exposed to Canola, which is all treated with the same chemical and once again no issues.  It’s to the point where the very few inept beekeepers that claim to have issues with neonics need to sell their operations to competent beekeepers and move as far away from this industry as possible.  They offer no benefit to the industry moving forward, and they have no interest in considering the fact that their own mismanagement is a far bigger issue than any agrochemical exposure.  The OBA’s recent press release confirms this yet again.  The Canadian honeybee industry has no time for the OBA’s contradictions and blatant deceit.  The proof is there, the Canadian honeybee industry is thriving and expanding.  If you claim it isn’t, you’re either a shitty beekeeper or have bought into the lies of one.

Lee Townsend
Lee Townsend

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