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

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

MONTREAL — 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 beekeeper 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 fruits and vegetable prices could feel the impact.

“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.

It’s a similar situation in Quebec where beekeepers have reportedly lost between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of their colonies.

Quebec has more than 300 beekeepers with about 50,000 colonies.

Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press

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