A local beekeeper says he is concerned about the effect of pesticides on the long-term sustainability of the honey farming industry, especially in Ontario, after colonies across Canada suffer massive winter losses.
According to a report released Thursday by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, Ontario took an average 58 per cent loss of commercially productive hives, doubling the average loss of any of the 10 other provinces surveyed.
The report said beekeepers surveyed across Canada cited a long winter season,pesticide use and a few specific pests as the culprits. Now some honey farmers are missing out on pollinating-business revenue while they deal with the repercussions.
Tom Congdon and his wife run Sun Parlor Honey in Cottam, a honey farm started by his grandfather in 1916. He said the farm used to run about 2,000 colonies but has downsized to around 1,700. He took part in the survey.
Congdon said healthy bees are typically able to survive winter just fine but exposure to neonicotinoids, a common pesticide, weakens and makes hives more vulnerable.
“The bees being exposed to it, it has an impact on the bees lifespan, on their behaviour in the colony. It affects them on a lot of different levels,” Congdon said.
After winter last year Congdon said his farm suffered around a 40 per cent loss.
“The winter did play some role in the winter loss but it’s mainly due to pesticide damage that was occurring last summer and fall to the bees,” Congdon said.
This year his winter losses were not as severe, at around 20-25 per cent. Congdon said, even still, he is playing catch-up at this point in the season.
“Anything above 20 per cent is going to have a pretty significant impact on your business and your viability of your business,” Congdon said. “We should be in full honey production right now and we’re still playing with rebuilding, so guys that lost 40 and 60 per cent will be the whole summer just trying to get things back in shape for the winter.”
Rebuilding also weakens the surviving colonies Congdon said, by splitting up the hive to support weaker ones. The process also takes up valuable time in the spring where produce farmers hire out bee farmers to pollinate their crops, so if the hives aren’t ready the bee farmer misses out.
Andrew Thiessen of Thiessen Apple Orchard in Leamington said he contracts bee farmers like Congdon so the hives of bees can do the work of thoroughly pollinating his trees.
“The bees collect pollen from the blossom to bring it back to the hive but while they’re going blossom to blossom they’re actually pollinating the fruit tree to turn the flower into an apple. That pollen needs to go from one flower to another to pollinate the fruit.”
Thiessen said without bees there would be no produce and Congdon said without a change in pesticide use there may one day be no bee industry.
If bee populations continue to struggle Congdon said prices will have to go up due to the rising cost of maintaining the colonies.
“Last year there was a world honey shortage so honey prices did move up a significant amount,” Congdon said. “And this year it looks like honey prices will probably remain stable but I’m not sure how we’re going to make up our loss of income.”
“I think if we can’t keep these bees alive pollination for farmers is going to suffer. I don’t know what they’ll use for bees but it won’t be honey bees.”
Further analysis will be conducted by the Ontario government on the 2013/14 wintering data.