Despite pesticide concerns, beekeepers and colonies on the rise

A bee works on a honeycomb in a file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Marcio Jose Sanchez

TORONTO – Though concerns over the widespread use of pesticides across Ontario and Quebec have been making headlines, Statistics Canada released new numbers Tuesday that illustrate an overall increase in the beekeeping  industry. However, there’s more to the numbers, said the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association.

According to Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council, the news shows just how healthy the beekeeping industry is.

“The number of beekeepers has gone up a lot,” Scarlett said. “This might be the only agricultural sector where the number of participants is increasing, the age of participants is getting younger and younger.”

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And that is owed to the increase in hobbyists, he believes.

Not only are the participants on the rise across the country, but more importantly, so is the value of honey.

WATCH: ‘Neonic’ pesticides killing bees, harming environment: scientists

“Honey prices have gone up,” said Scarlett. “The rate of return back to beekeepers is getting better and better.”

But what about the continued concern over colony collapse disorder, believed to be exacerbated by the widespread use of pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids?

READ MORE: Silence of the bees: ‘It has to stop. It just has to stop.’

Scarlett said that about 70 per cent of the honey produced in the country comes from western Canada. And there, the neonics are being used primarily on canola, a less toxic combination than when they are sprayed on corn and soy, which are mostly farmed in Ontario and Quebec.

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But that being said, honey production in the two provinces most concerned about neonicotinoids — Quebec and Ontario — also saw an increase.

Tibor Szabo of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association said that the StatsCan numbers are deceiving.

“Honey prices are up, quite a lot, both wholesale and retail,” he said. “For whatever reason, honey demand is up and prices are up.”

But meeting that demand in the face of declining bee populations means producing more colonies, hence the higher numbers.

“Production is not easy,” Szabo said.

“Prices are most definitely up, but it takes more colonies to make the same amount of honey.”

Szabo said that the numbers in Ontario may continue to climb as pollination demand has gone up. Last year, the eastern provinces announced that they needed another 100,000 hives to maintain the blueberry pollination services, compared the current number, roughly 30,000. And they’re looking to Ontario to feed that supply.

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Szabo insists that the threat of pesticides is harming the industry. And because of that, beekeepers are trying to keep more hives because they know that there will be a high percentage of loss.

“But that’s not sustainable,” Szabo said.

And though the numbers are increasing, the costs of maintaining more colonies and producing honey falls on the beekeeper. You might have to take care of three or four hives in order to produce the same amount of honey one hive once produced.

In July, Ontario announced plans that it was looking to become the first province in the country to restrict the use of pesticides. This is welcome news to Szabo who hopes that once the neonics are out of the crops, beekeepers can expect a healthier crop and with much less struggle to maintain decent colony numbers.

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“Pesticides are most definitely killing bee colonies on a very large scale. They’re either damaging them or killing them,” Szabo said. “That’s a fact.”

For a detailed report on honey production visit Statistics Canada.

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