B.C. blueberry farmers could lose millions due to bee shortage

B.C. blueberry farmers facing losses due to bee shortage
There are concerns that some B.C. blueberry farmers could face financial losses, all for the lack of pollination. Jill Bennett explains why some beekeepers are refusing to put their hives in blueberry fields.

In about two or three weeks, Jason Smith’s blueberry fields will be in bloom and thousands of bees will be needed to pollinate his crop.

Smith has paid for enough bees to cover his property this season but there are more than 600 growers in the Fraser Valley and not as many bees this year.

“Some commercial beekeepers that came from out of province last year have decided not to return because of the fungicide spraying on blueberries,” said Honeybee Centre president John Gibeau.

WATCH: Bees in fight of their lives

Bees in fight of their lives
Bees in fight of their lives

Gibeau said Alberta beekeepers provide B.C. with about 30 per cent of their colonies.

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He said a lack of bees will have a direct impact on farmers’ bottom line.

LISTEN: Beekeepers refuse to put thousands of colonies in Fraser Valley blueberry fields:

“There will be a shortage of between 2,000 to 4,000 colonies, which will cost the blueberry growers over $12 million in lost fruit.”

In addition to concerns about fungicide spraying, apiaries worry that when bees end up pollinating and feeding off blueberry fields, they can end up less healthy.

LISTEN: Blueberry growers react to loss of bee hives
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Experts liken it to the idea of people having an unbalanced diet.

“So much agriculture is done on vast, single-crop acreages that bees are not able to forage on the diverse pollen they need to rear a good, healthy brood,” said SFU professor Mark Winston, one of the world’s leading experts on bees and pollination. “So bees have nutritional deficiencies.”

READ MORE: UBC scientists hoping to breed better bees

“We encourage the farmers to not plant on every square foot of their property to allow some natural forage, so that bees can go to blackberries [and] weeds and get nutrition from other plants,” Gibeau said.

READ MORE: Popular pesticide linked to weakening, killing bee population

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Even though bee numbers are down, Smith thinks there is no reason for consumers to worry yet.

“I think there is going to be lots of healthy B.C. blueberries.”