By Tom Collins
MILTON — Ontario beekeepers suffered extraordinary losses this past winter, with one-third of beekeepers saying they had colony losses of at least 70 per cent, according to a Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA) survey of 900 beekeepers.
Overall, about seven out of 10 beekeepers say they had losses of at least 20 per cent, and about 45 per cent had losses of at least 50 per cent. “Losses over 50 per cent can be catastrophic,” said the OBA. “Colonies will be in recovery mode all summer and beekeepers will receive little or no income from pollination services or honey production.”
Hugh Simpson, a commercial beekeeper, at Singhampton in Grey County in Western Ontario, said those numbers seem to be accurate based on conversations he’s had with other commercial beekeepers. He said with this year’s long winter and last year’s poor spring and early summer, only three months out of the last 18 have been good for bees.
“This is a spring that surprised many, and when I say surprised, I mean disappointed,” he said.
The OBA says that since $900 million of Ontario’s fruit and vegetable crops rely on bees for pollination, a high percentage loss could also have a negative impact on those industries. However, the OBA survey didn’t differentiate between commercial beekeepers (more than 50 hives) and hobby beekeepers (less than 50), but that distinction plays a big role in the overall numbers, said Simpson.
”A hobbyist losing 50 per cent of the hives is 10 or 20 hives,” he said. “A commercial beekeeper losing 50 per cent of his or her hives could be 1,000 hives.”
According to the survey, 43 per cent of beekeepers blamed the long, cold winter, while 20 per cent pointed the finger at pesticides.
The OBA is asking the province for financial assistance for beekeepers to recover and rebuild their colony numbers. Ontario beekeepers with 50 or more colonies are eligible for Agricorp insurance to cover losses from weather, diseases and pests, but Simpson says that program is neither well-known nor well-understood.