Bee industry losses could surpass $1B this year due to massive die-off, Niagara beekeeper says
‘Pollination services are going to get hit and honey production is going to get hit,’ George Scott says
Losses in the honey and bee industry could surpass the billion-dollar mark in Canada this year, a Niagara-based beekeeper warns, due to a massive die-off of bees.
In 2020, the total estimated contribution from the Canadian honey and bee industry was between $4 to $5.5 billion.
"This is the worst that we have ever seen and I've been doing this for 50 years," George Scott told CBC Hamilton.
Scott is the president of Niagara Beeway, which sources queen bees from the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine.
"In Niagara, we've lost thousands of colonies. Most of our operations here are so severely impaired that we are not going to provide pollination services this year," he said.
"We believe, and we can document the loss in Canada of farmgate revenue of over $1 billion. So, that's farmers who are not going to have that revenue because pollination is not going to happen."
It will have a big impact on the whole agriculture industry, like all the farmers. The grape farmers, the food farmers, the blueberry farmers and everybody, they want bees from us, they're calling on us for bees from far away and they cannot get bees. It has never been like that.- Eduard Unger, owner, B-Y's Honey Farm
Eduard Unger owns B-Y's Honey Farm at Niagara-on-the-Lake. He says he's been a bee farmer all his life and the bee die-off this year is unprecedented.
"It's very, very difficult for me ... I live off my bee farm and it's 90 per cent lost and it's tremendous," Unger told CBC Hamilton.
Unger says he has been trying to rebuild his colonies but the expenses are quite high and he has no income.
"We've never had such a big die-off from the bees like we had this season. It is unbelievable. People have up to 95, 98 per cent losses of their bees," Unger said.
"It will have a big impact on the whole agriculture industry, like all the farmers. The grape farmers, the food farmers, the blueberry farmers and everybody, they want bees from us, they're calling on us for bees from far away and they cannot get bees. It has never been like that."
Taking a year off
Meanwhile, Scott says Niagara is extremely important in inter-provincial pollination services, adding, "for us to get hit this hard, many beekeepers are just simply retiring because they cannot afford to reinvest and restock and reboot with new bees."
Scott says the situation is so dire, beekeepers in Niagara are considering taking a year off.
"[Niagara Beeway is] the largest importer of Ukrainian queen bees and we've had over 9,400 cancellations from our clients who have paid. We returned all their money yesterday. We are not going to import because most of our beekeepers who buy bees don't have any bees to put queens in," he said.
"This is a really critical issue because no new queens mean no growth of the industry, and 10,000 new hives is an enormous amount.
"So, the demand is down because people simply don't have bees to put queens in anymore. There's going to be very little expansion, and for the first year, I believe, in Canada's history, we will not be a net exporter of honey. So, pollination services are going to get hit and honey production is going to get hit."
'An over-reliance on agricultural chemicals'
Beekeepers across the province are reporting major losses of up to 90 per cent of their colonies, according to the Ontario Beekeepers' Association.
It's believed a tiny parasite called the varroa mite is responsible for the bulk of this year's bee deaths, but Scott has a different theory.
"I've heard a lot about the parasite, that it's varroa. We've had varroa for more than 10 years and we're managing it so we don't accept that," he said.
"We've got another problem of really catastrophic proportions … We are looking at now a rather drastic combination of industries that are very, very common in Canada, and they are fungicides combining with insecticides."
Roy Allemann, president of the Golden Horseshoe Beekeepers' Association — Greater Hamilton, Brant and Halton Regions — agrees with Scott.
Allemann believes "an over-reliance on agricultural chemicals" is a significant contributor to an increase in bee deaths especially in the last 10 years.
"We've been dealing with mites for about 30 years, if not a little bit longer. There are very well known mite controls that are used by a lot of experienced beekeepers that work, and we've been using them for that long," Allemann told CBC News.
"What we suspect is happening is that it's an over abundance and overuse of chemicals in agriculture, some of which are known bee killers, and there are so many studies done worldwide on some of these toxins … systemic pesticides specifically that are used for seed coatings, and these are also used as a prophylactic, so it's getting used whether there's a known problem or not in crops."
'A complete loss of income'
Allemann says he normally runs approximately 120 hives, but he has lost just over 40 per cent. Still, he says his losses are a lot less than other beekeepers in the area covered by his association.
According to Allemann, prior to the last decade, any losses over 15 per cent would be considered bad. This season, he says the average losses across Ontario will surpass 60 per cent, and this will probably be the worst year on record for bees dying off.
"I have talked to several beekeepers, some fairly large ones, who have lost 80 per cent or more, and we're talking people who have anywhere from 400 hives to 10,000-plus," he said,
"If you're losing over 80 per cent, you're spending your entire summer just trying to get your stocks back up. It basically means a significant loss in income. It's actually a complete loss of income for a year."
Allemann says while queen bees can always be imported from the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand or South America, he's concerned that around 400 native bee species are also dying off in large numbers.
"No one is trying to bring the stocks back up, so you have native bees and native pollinators that, again, their numbers are dwindling, some of them quite rapidly and they may be lost forever," Alleman said.
With files from Paula Duhatschek