A new report on the health of Canada’s honeybees says more than half of Ontario’s bee colonies died last winter, double the national average.
The report caught the attention of Ontario’s agriculture minister, who promised a “detailed analysis” of its findings and a “path forward.”
According to the findings, 58 per cent of the province’s wintering bee colonies were dead by the spring — a death rate more than double the national average of 25 per cent and more than double the next hardest hit province, New Brunswick, at 26 per cent.
A typical winter loss rate is 15 per cent, according to the Annual Colony Loss Report from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA).
When Ontario’s data is removed from the overall winter loss rate, the national average falls from 25 per cent to 19.6 per cent, according to the report.
The reasons for Ontario’s mass colony collapse are many and likely include both environmental and industrial factors, said CAPA president and Alberta provincial apiculturist Medhat Nasr.
“It does concern any producer and even any regulatory person when you see high numbers like this,” Nasr said.
The Ontario government began preparing for the collapse as early as April, when it established a financial assistance program for the province’s beekeepers.
“We anticipated challenges for beekeepers this year, due in part to the severe winter experienced throughout the province,” Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal said in a statement Wednesday.
Prolonged cold winters make it difficult for bees to survive for two reasons, according to CAPA: it’s too cold to access the honey in their hives and the delayed arrival of spring means the delayed arrival of additional food.
The minister singled out as a goal of his ministry restricting use of neonicotinoid pesticides to only those “areas or circumstances where there is demonstrated need.”
According to CAPA, neonicotinoid pesticides are a growing concern, especially for beekeepers in Ontario and Quebec, where exposure to the “sub-lethal” pesticides in the spring and summer months is thought to contribute to winter loss.
Ontario’s manager of animal health and welfare, Kelly McAslan, said honeybees contribute $26 million to the provincial economy in honey production alone and $395 million in the pollination of all other crops.
Approximately one-third of everything Canadians eat requires honeybee pollination, according to McAslan and Nasr.
The CAPA report, which represents data from more than 7,000 beekeepers in nine provinces, lists invasive mites, parasites, pathogens and poor queen health as other factors contributing to the national decline.
Gross winter losses by province in 2013-2014:
• B.C. 15%
• Alberta 18.5%
• Saskatchewan 18.9%
• Manitoba 24%
• Ontario 58%
• Quebec 18%
• New Brunswick 26.3%
• Nova Scotia 22.7%
• PEI 19.1%
• Newfoundland (data unavailable)
• Canada 25 %