Concern in Brockville over declining honeybees

By Meggie Sylvester  Read article

JASPER - Area beekeeper Kyle Baker took up the honey harvesting trade about two years ago, adding a third generation of beekeepers to his family.

“My grandfather was a beekeeper, so I grew up exposed to it my whole life,” said Baker, who works full-time as an industrial mechanic.

“Although I never had the chance to actually work with him, I was always around when he was harvesting honey.”

Baker, who now keeps six hives at his Jasper home, is just one member of a growing beekeeping community in Leeds-Grenville, many of whom are concerned enough by the declining numbers of pollen-spreading honeybees - and the ramifications that has for agriculture – to work on the front lines to address the problem.

“People are aware of how bad things could get without bees and want to get involved,” Baker said. “Beekeeping isn’t as simple as it used to be a couple of generations ago, but people seem willing to give it a try.”

Baker said some local keepers  harvest honey and other products for personal use,  or have grown the hobby into a steady business selling beeswax, white and dark honey and other organic products.

But beekeepers in Eastern Ontario - and across Canada, in fact - are facing a number of obstacles, says Baker, affecting cross-pollination that is vital to agricultural sustainability.

“In my opinion, the decline has a lot to do with neonicotinoid pesticides. I think there’s a lot of evidence to support that,” Baker said.

In fact, Baker was contacted by local organic farmer Angela Peladeau who, over her 12 years of agricultural experience, began witnessing a significant decline in honeybees on her property. She brings in Baker’s bees to assist with pollination of her fruit trees and other crops.

“What we are noticing is that there’s definitely a huge decline in bees due to people using pesticides,” Peladeau said.

“We have both fruit trees and produce in the gardens and greenhouses, and over the years, you can visually see the difference.”

But with Baker’s hives on site, more honeybees seem to be hovering in the lush fruit trees and clover patches, she said.

Jim Coneybeare, second vice-president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, has witnessed a similar phenomenon. Coneybeare said Ontario honeybees are currently experiencing “chronic insecticide poisoning” due to chemicals, such as neonicotinoids, sprayed on soy and corn, both leading agricultural crops in the area.

As bees hover from plant to plant gathering pollen and nectar, the pollen transfers with it, thus completing an essential reproductive role in cross-pollination, according to Syngenta, a leading agricultural organization.

“When you have the residue in your dead and dying bees and you have the residue in their food source, it’s pretty well a smoking gun,” Coneybeare said.

Coneybeare – who keeps roughly 850 hives - compared the current state of the declining bee population with the tobacco industry 30 years ago.

“There were all sorts of denials and campaigns to create doubt saying it couldn’t be nicotine,” Coneybeare said.

“We’re dealing with the same campaign as far as public messaging.”