Win­ter losses of bee colonies in On­tario could be worst on record

Windsor Star - - CITY+REGION -

Cana­dian beekeepers are ex­press­ing con­cern about the ef­fects of poor weather on their colonies, with the pres­i­dent of the On­tario Beekeepers’ As­so­ci­a­tion de­scrib­ing the level of dead or ail­ing ones as “as­tound­ing.

“It’s quite dis­cour­ag­ing and de­mor­al­iz­ing for beekeepers,” Jim Coney­beare, 55, said in a phone in­ter­view Mon­day.

An as­so­ci­a­tion sur­vey of al­most 900 On­tario beekeepers in­di­cated that 70 per cent suf­fered un­sus­tain­able losses this past win­ter. “I’ve been get­ting calls from beekeepers around the prov­ince,” said Coney­beare, who lives in Fer­gus, Ont.

“The num­ber of dead or weak colonies is as­tound­ing. These could be the worst win­ter losses on record.”

That’s bad news not only for beekeepers, but for veg­etable and fruit grow­ers who de­pend on bees for pol­li­na­tion.

More than 40 per cent said the re­cent long, cold win­ter that ex­tended into spring was the main rea­son for the heavy losses. “Pollen from the trees usu­ally comes at the end of March, be­gin­ning of April, ( but) no­body saw that until the end of April, be­gin­ning of May, so a lot of our pollen was de­layed,” Coney­beare said.

The third-gen­er­a­tion bee-keeper ex­plained that an abun­dance of pollen and nec­tar leads queen bees to raise a lot of young bees, but that pro­duc­tion of the brood is cut back if there is not enough. Coney­beare, who said On­tario has more than 3,000 beekeepers, noted that plants want sun­shine and tem­per­a­tures of around 25 C and that they don’t yield pollen and nec­tar if it’s 18 C and cloudy. “And then there’s still cer­tain ar­eas where we see cer­tain prob­lems with pes­ti­cides,” he added. “Some ar­eas are see­ing stress from pes­ti­cides so then the hives just don’t have as many young bees that sur­vive into the spring.” The as­so­ci­a­tion has asked the On­tario gov­ern­ment for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to al­low beekeepers to re­cover and re­build their colonies. Coney­beare doubts the prob­lem will af­fect the price of honey in stores, but it could af­fect the price of fruits and veg­eta­bles.

“The ap­ples you eat, the peaches you eat ... var­i­ous fruits and veg­eta­bles pro­duced in Canada could be af­fected by the avail­abil­ity of honey bees to pol­li­nate those crops,” he said.

Beekeepers in Al­berta and Que­bec have also ex­pe­ri­enced no­tice­able losses be­cause of weather con­di­tions.

Con­nie Phillips, ex­ec­u­tive-di­rec­tor of the Al­berta Beekeepers Com­mis­sion, points to a longer than nor­mal win­ter in her prov­ince. “March and April were the cold­est they’ve been in about 75 years,” she said in an in­ter­view. “There were losses re­lated, in some cases, to star­va­tion be­cause the bees ran out of food in their hives be­cause the win­ter was so long.”

Phillips said she’s heard of any­where from 30 to 50 per cent in losses and that “a few beekeepers lost ev­ery­thing.”

But, she added, the Al­berta win­ter loss sur­vey hasn’t been com­pleted yet.

The Al­berta com­mis­sion rep­re­sents more than 90 per cent of the prov­ince’s 300,000 colonies, which is the largest num­ber in Canada. Al­berta has about 900 beekeepers, ac­cord­ing to one re­cent statis­tic.

Var­i­ous fruits and veg­eta­bles pro­duced in Canada could be af­fected by the avail­abil­ity of honey bees.

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