Ontario beekeepers could take years to recover after rough season: Researcher

University of Guelph's Bee Research Centre says it may take years for beekeepers to recover from their colony loss after the Ontario Beekeeper's Association reported a third of beekeepers lost 70 per cent of their colonies over the winter.

1 in 3 beekeepers lost 70 per cent of bee colonies over winter, Ontario Beekeeper's Association reports

Ontario beekeepers are going to have a tough time this year according to Paul Kelly, who manages the University of Guelph's Bee Research Centre. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

A researcher with Guelph's Bee Research Centre says it may take several years for Ontario beekeepers to recover after a difficult season.

The Ontario Beekeepers' Association (OBA) found one in three beekeepers lost 70 per cent of their colonies over the winter.

The OBA released results from a survey on May 14, which looked at 900 beekeepers in Ontario.

Paul Kelly has managed the university's Bee Researcher Centre since 1987. He said they lost 25 per cent of the bees in the centre's 300 hives over the winter.

"The one's that are left are largely on the weaker side, so lower population," he said.

Ideally, he said, beekeepers try not to lose more than 15 per cent of their colonies over winter. He said problems become more significant if losses reach the 20 per cent mark.

"Over 50 per cent is catastrophic. It's really tough to recover from that," he said.

The OBA said the high colony losses mean some beekeepers will get little to no income from pollination services or honey production this season.

They University of Guelph's Bee Research Centre has a total of 300 beehives. (Carmen Ponciano/ CBC)

Problems go back to spring 2017

Kelly said one of the main reasons behind high losses is the cooler spring and summer in 2017 and an extended winter this year.

"The bees didn't produce very much honey, so they didn't have the resources they needed to be raising young, and they went into the fall with lower populations," Kelly explained. 

Cooler weather also affected the mating window for queen bees.

Recovery could take years

As a result, many beekeepers in Ontario will be working toward recovering their hives this summer.

Short-term recovery means beekeepers can split their healthy hives in two or buy more bees. But that may be a challenge this season as hives have to be populous to split, and there are few queens available right now. 

"This year, there's just not a lot of bees available because everyone is in the same position," Kelly said.

He added that for beekeepers who lost 70 per cent of their hives, it may take several years to recover.