Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia blueberry industry needs Ontario bees, says minister

Nova Scotia's minister of agriculture says new measures to import bees from Ontario are a necessary compromise to balance the needs of the blueberry and bee industries, but some beekeepers say it's a risk that could hurt their livelihood.

About 5,000 beehives from Ontario will be imported this spring to help pollinate blueberry crops

The small hive beetle likes to prey on weak bee colonies and young hives by laying eggs inside the cells and eating honey and pollen. (Andy Duback/The Associated Press)

Nova Scotia's minister of agriculture says new measures to import bees from Ontario are a necessary compromise to balance the needs of the blueberry and bee industries, but some beekeepers say it's a risk that could hurt their livelihood.

This spring, about 5,000 beehives from Ontario will be imported into Cumberland County to help pollinate blueberry crops. As well, the province says it will send a team of beekeepers and people from the wild blueberry industry to Ontario first to examine the colonies before they're shipped.

"Without the proper pollination, it would substantially reduce the yield in the blueberry fields, which would be a huge economic impact on the province," said Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell, adding this year the province is only importing half as many bees as last year.

"We're not really prioritizing one over the other. There's a need to satisfy demand in the industry, the blueberry industry, that the bee industry can't satisfy."

The Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association had asked Colwell to ban importing bees due to the small hive beetle, which has established itself in Ontario.

The pest burrows in hives and lays eggs. Its excrements can ferment honey if it isn't immediately harvested.

The province says inspectors will open up every hive before its shipped to try to spot the small hive beetle and they'll examine lower sections of about 10 per cent of the hives. Hives will be inspected again when they arrive in Nova Scotia.

"We anticipate with this inspection process, it's a pretty rigid one we're doing, that there would be no, almost zero chance of [the beetle] coming into the province," said Colwell.

Busy time for beekeepers

However, many beekeepers say any importation of bees from a region where the small hive beetle has spread is putting them at risk. 

Faye Langille, who has 100 hives in Colchester Country, says she would have liked to see the province hold off importing hives this year, in hopes the local industry could expand enough to satisfy the demand for hives by next year.

She also questions if any experienced beekeepers will be available to inspect Ontario hives, since beekeepers must prepare their own hives for pollination in May, a process that can take weeks.

"It kind of defeats the purpose because you're having people who really don't have the experience going to learn to spot the small hive beetle," she said.

"The ones that have more experience don't have the time to go unless they have hired labour that can take over while they're away."

5 to 9 days in Ontario

Colwell estimates the inspectors will spend between five and nine days in Ontario, depending on the weather. The inspection team's expenses will be paid, but whether they will be compensated for their time is still being decided.

He says says inspecting the hives will be a training opportunity for beekeepers who might eventually need to know how to identify the small hive beetle, in the event it migrates to the province in the future.

Nova Scotia Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell says the province has invested in incentives for beekeepers to increase the number of hives and says in the future, he hopes there will be enough local hives that importing colonies from Ontario isn't necessary. (CBC)

"This is a very valuable education process for them as well. This is a win-win," Colwell said.

Beekeeper Roger Leblanc, who lives in Tidnish, N.S., says he considered being part of the inspection team, but decided he couldn't afford to lose a week with his own hives during one of the busiest times of the year.

"Why would I take time from my apiary and go up there, to bring down what could possibly destroy mine?"

Bees mix in Cumberland County

Leblanc says he's likely not sending his own hives to pollinate blueberry crops now because he's concerned they'll become infested if they're mingling with colonies imported from Ontario. 

"We are struggling on a daily basis with different diseases, problems with bees, mites and other things, why would we take a chance to bring another one in?" he said.

Faye Langille says she spends most of May preparing her own bee hives so they're ready to pollinate blueberry crops. (N.S. Beekeepers Association)

Langille says if the small hive beetle does travel to Nova Scotia, it will soon spread to hives from across the province, since many beekeepers rely on the income of renting out their own hives to pollinate blueberry crops.

Limiting the imported hives to Cumberland Country won't make a difference since bees from across Nova Scotia pollinate blueberry crops, according to Langille. 

"As far as I know, there's no little fence that says bees can't cross the border from Cumberland to Colchester Country. It's a moot point," she said.

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