The Grower Online :: News bulletin: No shortage of beehives to pollinate our crops

News bulletin: No shortage of beehives to pollinate our crops

 

RAY DUC
CHAIR, OFVGA

There is a problem, there isn’t a problem. This is the problem, that is the problem. I have read and heard these words in regards to bee health so many times it leads me to believe one thing: we don’t know what the problem is or if there is one.

Bees have a direct role in more than one third of our diet — that’s a lot of food. Without bees our diet would be far less nutritious. The livelihood of thousands of farmers depends on the health of bee populations in Canada. The importance of bee health cannot be overstated and must be monitored. Millions of bees are moved across Canada every year to pollinate apples, blueberries and more than a hundred different fruits and vegetables. The work of bees is integral to horticulture in Canada. 

There have been so many studies and media reports on bee health that it has become impossible to keep up with the latest “facts and figures.” If you have tried, you will have noticed that the majority of these reports is indicating that the bee population is in huge decline and that we are on the verge of a major crisis in our food supply. 

The numbers from the pollinator industry are contrary to what is being reported in the media. Canada’s bee population has been growing steadily. There is no shortage of beehives to pollinate our crops and the cost to have hives delivered to our orchards and fields has not risen outside of normal increases. If there was a shortfall in beehives, supply and demand would be influencing the price and we would be seeing large increases in the cost of pollinators. According to Statistics Canada the honeybee population has increased by 37 per cent since 2003 in Ontario. 

The same is true on a national scale. Data from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists(CAPA) shows an increase of 10.7 per cent between 2009 and 2013 with bee colonies increasing from 611,972 to 677,824. This growth rate is remarkable considering all the threats to the industry: record cold winters, varroa mites, nosema. And now a hive beetle is threatening hives in the eastern part of the country. It’s commendable that the commercial beekeepers have managed to grow the industry nationwide in spite of these challenges.

Canada’s record is one to share with the world. There are 16 million acres of canola grown on the prairies, a vast rich source of nutritional food for bees. Many don’t know that 80 per cent of Canada’s honey production comes from these canola fields. What’s telling is that Canadian canola seed has been treated with neonicotinoids since they were introduced, yet Canada’s bee population has been largely unaffected. This is a real world, large-scale example — not a lab test. 

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticide that was welcomed by farmers and environmentalists alike when they came into use in the 1990s. Neonics have become widely used around the world for a good reason; they are less toxic than the organophosphates they replaced. They are much safer for the applicator. In fact, so safe that the insecticide is registered for use in flea collars of our house pets. 

This crop protection product is now being portrayed as the number one cause of colony collapse disorder with no evidence that it is the sole or biggest threat to honey bee health. Without question, neonics have had far less impact on the environment than if we continued to use organophosphates.

So why are they being blamed exclusively for bee deaths in Canada and around the world? It is simple. Some environmental groups need a culprit to point to and they know the media will listen if their message is alarming enough. These groups create a sense of doomsday and the attention follows. 

This may sound harsh but remember when GMOs were going to bring about the end of the world. The world is still here and GMOs are a big part of it. Neonics are now the new GMOs. Colony collapse in beehives was first documented in 1869 with spikes in bee deaths occurring regionally around the world ever since.

British beekeepers warned that rushing to ban neonics — when the evidence is contradictory — could well do more damage than good, as we will return to pesticides that are known to be harmful to bees. Scientists all over the world are now doing field studies in the real world. Let them do their work and not base any decisions on emotion caused by alarmists.

The Grower Online :: News bulletin: No shortage of beehives to pollinate our crops.

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