April is the month most Alberta beekeepers receive their shipments of imported bees to begin honey production season but this year those essential deliveries just aren’t arriving.
“Just not enough planes moving cargo,” Alberta Honey Producers Co-operative director of supply, Derrick Johnston, said. “And to move the cargo, you need the people and with COVID, people aren’t moving.”
Johnston said with planes being grounded from countries where bees come from, such as New Zealand and Australia, many shipments have been delayed or cancelled.
“We’ve been cancelled — it will be four pallets of bees, which is around 3,000 packages.”
Many producers just don’t have the bees to make honey, an issue for beekeepers with hives not able to survive the cold winter months.
According to a report by the Canadian Association for Professional Apiculturists showing the winter loss of honey bee colonies from 2019 to 2020, Alberta led the country with 40 per cent of non-viable colonies unable to make it through winter.
Glyn Stephens is a full-time commercial beekeeper who has worked in the industry nearly his whole life.
He says while last year was tough, so far this year things aren’t looking much better.
“It’s been challenging beyond belief.
“You make a plan, then the next week things have changed, now that plan is irrelevant,” said Stephens, who owns Revival Queen Bees.
Stephens said he, and most Alberta beekeepers, rely on bees from abroad. Without them, he says, there will be less honey and money to go around.
“From hobbyist to a business, some of this is their livelihood. So, absolutely, (being) unable to get the bees to put in those hives is hard on everybody.”
Stephens said there are some local options, but the quality and price differ from imported bees. While there is an abundance of bees aboard, he says, it’s just a matter of getting them here.