British Columbia

More bees could boost B.C. blueberries by $20-million says Vancity report

A decline in wild bees and shortage of honey bee colonies to rent are keeping B.C.'s thriving blueberry industry from reaching its full potential, a new Vancity report finds.

Decline in wild bees and shortage of colonies to rent keeping thriving blueberry industry from full potential

Honey bees are important pollinators of blueberry flowers. (Hannah Burrack/NCSU Small Fruit IPM)

A shortage of bees is holding back B.C.'s thriving blueberry industry from its full potential, according to a new report from Vancity.

The analysis, authored by bee expert Mark Winston of Simon Fraser University, found blueberries could add up to $20-million more to the B.C. economy if they were fully pollinated.

"There are simply not enough honeybee colonies to accomplish the growing pollination need for blueberries," said Winston.

"We import bees every spring from as far away as Alberta to pollinate, and even that hasn't been enough."

B.C. leads the country in blueberry production, growing almost half of all Canadian blueberries, according to government statistics.

The Vancity report estimates blueberries could add an additional $20-million to the B.C. economy if crops were better pollinated. (CBC)

Pesticides and pollinators

Overall, B.C.'s bee colonies have fared well during a time of colony die-offs, with some of the lowest mortality in the world, said Winston. He attributes the relative success to diverse habitats, lower pesticide use and the skills of local beekeepers.

But, that's still left blueberries in need of more pollinators, he writes in the Vancity report Sweet Deal: The value of bees to British Columbia's economy.

Blueberries require about 20 bee visits per flower, and if they don't get that, there will be reduced yield and profit for growers due to smaller or misshapen berries, the report states.

Wild bees can't provide that, in part because of pesticide use near farms, said Winston.

"Because pesticide use in blueberries is a bit on the high side, there are simply not enough wild bees around to contribute to the pollination," Winston told host Rick Cluff on CBC Radio's The Early Edition.

Growers rent honeybee colonies to pollinate their fields, but that's costly, and the price per hive has risen sharply in the past decade fom $65 in 2006, to between $100 and $150 per hive this year.

Bees already contribute close to $500 million to the B.C. economy, in pollination , honey sales, wax and other services, according to the Vancity report. (Stephen Ausmus/Reuters)

Bee boost?

The report estimates that bees could contribute another $50 million to the B.C. economy — through increased blueberry production, as well as selling more honey and even the bees themselves.

"Every year, across North America beekeepers have to replace colonies, because so many are dying," said Winston.

"British Columbia, because of our favourable climate, could produce a lot of bees to ship elsewhere."

The report estimates that bees already contribute nearly $500 million for the B.C. economy, including:

  • $468 million in pollination services.
  • $16 million worth of honey for retail sale.
  • $5 million in pollination rentals.
  • $1 million in wax sales.

The B.C. Blueberry Council has not responded to CBC's request for an interview on the report.

With files from The Early Edition