Ontario's commercial beekeepers are struggling with an unsustainable 35% average annual death rate among honey bees, says the president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association.
"There are beekeepers that if this goes on another season, they're out of business," said Dan Davidson, association president and a beekeeper who lives outside of Watford.
"Now, how long does it take for the whole industry to collapse? I don't know, but it's definitely hitting some people really hard."
The association is calling on Ontario to ban the neonicotinoid pesticides used to treat corn and soybean seeds that Health Canada says impacts bees and other pollinators.
The federal agency proposed recently to implement measures in 2014 to reduce the risk during planting season, but Davidson said those moves won't go far enough.
Davidson said it's a relatively small industry with approximately 250 commercial beekeepers, along with another 3,000 who keep small numbers of hives, but 30% of the food human's eat requires pollination, and honey bees do 80% of the pollinating.
"Any more, honey is a byproduct of the bees and pollination is the real economic driver."
Beekeepers have always dealt with some winter kill but losses were once just 5% to 10%.
Davidson said that climbed to 17% several years ago when a mite began showing up in hives but beekeepers learned to manage that impact.
It was in 2007, as use of neonicotinoid pesticides began to became more widespread, that beekeepers began seeing heavier losses, he said.
"We do know it lasts a long time in soil and water, so we're really thinking its environmental loading," Davidson said.
"We're quite certain the bees are bringing it back to the hive in the form of pollen and water."
Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency said recently that areas of high corn production correlated with locations reporting bee mortality in 2012, and 70% of dead bee samples tested positive for neonicotinoid insecticide residue.
"We have concluded that current agricultural practices related to the use of neonicotinoid treated corn and soybean seed are not sustainable," the agency says.
Davidson said that while the impact is being felt by beekeepers across Ontario, "It's definitely worse in the southwestern part where more of the corn is grown."
The Grain Farmers of Ontario opposes a ban is says could lower production levels and put its members at a disadvantage when competing with farmers in the U.S. and Western Canada using the insecticides.