B.C. bee industry suffers serious losses after cold, wet winter

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[Survey found 31% (!!) of colonies did not survive winter, compared to typical losses of 17 to 18% See also: Bee lifespan shortened by exposure to neonicotinoids, study says; and Blueberries suffering from lack of bees, says new report. *RON*]

Roshini Nair, CBC News 1 July 2017

A significant percentage of colonies did not survive winter in B.C. this year, according to an annual provincial survey. ( Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
An annual spring survey of British Columbia's beekeepers revealed a higher percentage than usual of colony loss over the long, cold winter.

The survey, conducted by the Provincial Apiculture Office last month, asked beekeepers across the province to report how many of their colonies survived winter.

It found 31 per cent of the wintering bee colonies did not survive, which could have an impact on B.C.'s agricultural industry and honey production this year.
More bees could boost B.C. blueberries by $20M, says Vancity report

Typically, bees are less active in the winter. They enter a winter cluster where they keep warm inside their hive, consuming the honey they have produced from the pollen and nectar they have gathered during the summer months.

Beekeepers prepare their hives for winter by making sure there is enough food for the bees, the hives are dry and secure, and the bee colonies have low mite and pest levels.

Paul van Westendorp, B.C.'s provincial apiculturist, says some winter loss is normal and expected, but for the past 10 years it's ranged between 17 and 18 per cent.

"We were disappointed in learning there were higher losses than we had anticipated," van Westendorp said.

"The difference between 17 per cent and 18 per cent versus 31 per cent — that's a bit of shocker."

On the survey, winter weather was the most frequently cited reason for the losses.

Cold, wet winter

Much of British Columbia's beekeeping regions like the Fraser Valley, the Lower Mainland, and the Okanagan experienced colder and wetter winters than usual. (Denis Dossman/CBC)
The West Coast lived up to its 'wet coast' moniker this winter, with prolonged rain and cold winter temperatures extending to late spring.

Julia Common, the chief beekeeper at Hives for Humanity, says she experienced a 25 per cent loss over the winter.

"The weather has been cold and wet. Either the bees can't get out of the colony to find food or when they get out, the pollen is sopping wet and they can't get in or the weather is too cold, and there's no nectar flow."

Common says the high losses this year are distressing.

"It's devastating as a beekeeper. We spend hours looking after our animals. Many people have this idea that you just throw bees in a box and now you've got honey and you don't have to take care of them. But it's like having a cow, you have to look after the livestock."

She says for some beekeepers with even higher percentage losses, it could mean the end of a career.

"You put hours and hours into taking care of them and feeding them," she explained. "When they crash, it's very expensive to bring in livestock and bring in queens from other places."

Industry impacts

Honey bees are important pollinators for agricultural crops — like this bee on a blueberry flower. (Hannah Burrack/NCSU Small Fruit IPM)
Many of B.C.'s major agricultural crops rely on pollinators like bees for production.

The colony losses means fewer B.C.-based bee operators are available to help with pollination, especially if they choose to focus on rebuilding their colonies this summer.

If B.C. beekeepers are focused on rebuilding their colonies, it might also affect honey production.

But van Westerndorp says the winter isn't a complete "disaster."

He says it's still too early to say B.C.'s honey yield will be lower this year as other variables like soil moisture, flower production, etc. could affect production.

He added he fully expects the industry to respond and make up the numbers.

"It is merely one of those events that are part of farming. You sometimes have higher losses and sometimes you have lower losses ... This is a responsive industry that will pick up the pieces."

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