Honey shortage could persist after record winter bee deaths

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This past winter saw record losses for beekeepers, and one expert says the prospects for next year are even worse if they face another frigid winter.


Last winter, beekeepers across the country faced average losses of nearly 45 per cent, with some bee farms seeing losses as high as 90 per cent. Leonard Foster, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of British Columbia, calls these losses “shocking.”


“The long term historical average was maybe around 12 to 15 per cent. Over the last probably 12 or 15 years, it actually rose up to about 27 per cent. So still very high, but 45 per cent is a record and very hard to take,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.


On top of an unseasonably cold winter, beekeepers have also had to deal with extreme heat waves as well as the proliferation of the varroa mite, a parasitic mite that feeds on honeybees and has existed in Canada since 1989.


“Certainly these heat waves are not great for bees. They also tend to dry out the plants and make less nectar available for bees to forage on. So, that reduced the honey crop,” Foster said.


Although losses at bee farms had been on the rise, Foster says the total number of honeybee colonies have been increasing as beekeepers have been successful at replenishing and multiplying their colonies.


But after the record losses last winter, “It’s not clear that they’re going to be able to do that this year,” Foster said.


“Forty-five per cent is a huge hit. I expect we’ll probably see a gradual drop in colonies next year now,” he added.


It’s not just honey farms that are affected by these bee deaths. Foster notes that honeybees are important pollinators for crops like blueberries and canola.


“If we lose a lot of bees over the winter, it means there’s fewer bees available to pollinate those crops early on in the spring. And this particularly affects the very early blooming crops because it means that the bees are needed before beekeepers are able to replenish the numbers that they might have lost over the winter,” Foster said.


“We’ll see increases in prices for those crops, as well as increases in prices for honey.”

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