“A perfect storm” of obstacles is threatening thousands of Alberta beehives.
“It’s almost been like a perfect storm in the last year,” said Ron Greidanus, owner of Greidanus Honey Farm in Stettler and a board member of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission.
“There’s no one particular reason for it. There are a number of significant contributing factors.”
Connie Phillips, the beekeepers commission’s executive director, said the Alberta industry anticipates losing 50,000 to 60,000 hives this year.
“Each hive produces anywhere between 150 to 200 pounds of honey, and that honey has a value of roughly $1.60 to $2 a pound,” said Phillips.
“There’s a cost to replace the lost hives as well, and a loss of production. In the far extreme end on the spectrum of loss, we have one beekeeper who says he’s lost 90 per cent of his bees.
“He sells a premium product, so he was anticipating he was going to lose about $2 million in honey sales, and it would cost him close to $1 million to replace the lost bees.”
The industry has been growing steadily over the past decade, Phillips said, adding there are about 300,000 hives registered by commercial beekeepers with the commission.
“If we go down to 250,000 hives or less, that’s pre-2010 numbers. We think that it might take two to three years to fully recover, and that’s assuming everything is perfect moving forward,” she said.
Greidanus said one of the reasons for the loss of hives is the low level of honey crops generated last year.
“Last year’s crop was worse than I have ever seen in all the years that I have been keeping bees in the province,” said Greidanus, who has 40 years of experience in the industry.
“Poor honey crops generate weak hives. Going into winter, that poor crop didn’t allow the bees to build a substantial population to go into winter.
“With sub-critical mass populations, you don’t have enough (bees) to group hug to generate heat and form a C02 bubble inside the hive. Then when you have the hard, cold weather hit like we did in January and February, that wiped a lot of bees out.”
Cold weather this spring resulted in more bee deaths, he added.
“Because we had the extra two weeks (of cold weather), a lot of hives starved and froze. They didn’t have enough feed to go the distance. They didn’t have enough population.”
Another reason for the beehive loss is the impact of COVID-19. Many seasonal workers were unable to come to work at Alberta farms due to travel restrictions, and equipment and replacement hives, which often come from Australia or New Zealand, weren’t able to be shipped to Canada.
The No. 1 cause of hive loss in Alberta is parasites, said Greidanus.
“The legal avenues that we have available to us as beekeepers to control these pests is limited. It’s kind of like if you’re going out to make gravel, but all you’ve got is a hammer. You’re going to be pounding for an awfully long time until you get enough gravel to spread on your driveway.
“We have a very limited number of tools, and after a while, they don’t work anymore.”