By Tom Collins
The number of bees dying in Ontario over the winter months continue to be close to the national average for Ontario beekeepers, maintaining a trend that began before the province’s new neonicotinoid-treated seed restrictions were introduced in 2016.
The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) reported that Ontario beekeepers saw a 2017 winter loss of 26.9 per cent, slightly above the national average of 25.1 per cent. The number comes from a survey of 98 beekeepers that own at least 50 colonies. Those 98 beekeepers represent 45.4 per cent of Ontario’s colonies.
The top four reasons for winter loss were poor queens, starvation, weak colonies in the fall and ineffective varroa mite control. Neonics were not an option on the survey, but in the past some beekeepers have argued that neonics could be the cause behind starvation and weak colonies.
While the 26.9 per cent this year is higher than the 17.93 per cent winter loss in 2016, it’s a far drop from the 58 per cent winter loss in 2014. That 58 per cent, an outrageously high number, was linked to a long cold winter followed by a wet cold spring, and was a catalyst for the province’s neonic regulations.
CAPA did point out that the number of bee colonies has increased in Canada from 589,253 in 2007 to 767,800 in 2016. In Ontario, the number of colonies has increased from 75,000 in 2007 to 97,342 in 2016.
Hugh Simpson, who founded the Independent Commercial Beekeepers Association in 2014, said many commercial beekeepers can recover from 30 per cent winter loss every year. But if the apiarist’s business is mostly pollination-based and needs bees ready in May, or if nearby nectar flows mostly in spring/early summer, then a 30 per cent loss is too high.
This year’s number of 26.9 per cent, which is below the five-year average of 35.7 per cent and the 10-year average of 31.9 per cent, is a far cry from the numbers released by the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association earlier this year. The OBA said 51 per cent of provincial apiarists had unsustainable overwinter losses this year, and that more than 30 per cent of beekeepers reported losses exceeding 50 per cent of their colonies. However, only 45 respondents identified as commercial beekeepers, while most said they were small beekeepers with fewer than 50 colonies.
Simpson, of Osprey Bluffs Honey in Grey County, said Ontario numbers are skewed by hobbyist beekeepers. CAPA’s survey includes any apiarist with 50 hives, but Simpson said someone making full-time revenue would need at least 250 hives.
Ontario beekeepers lose bees every winter. CAPA says the long-term acceptable threshold for winter loss is 15 per cent. Simpson says that number is almost unmanageable, but a 30 per cent loss is the maximum a beekeeper would want to lose.
“In Ontario, which has an aspirational goal of 15 per cent, I would be highly surprised if that’s attainable,” he said. “That doesn’t mean any particular operation can’t get to 15 per cent.”