Today [Friday, January 24, 2020], Ontario beekeepers face unprecedented challenges.
Loss of forage and declining honey production: Due to the expansion of corn and soy cropping, much of the historic hay and marginal land that provided nectar sources and nutritional forage has been lost. Unusual weather patterns have also contributed to a decline in honey production.
Chronic and widespread exposure to highly toxic, systemic, water soluble pesticides: Seed treatments are still being overused at an alarming rate. OMAFRA agronomists suggest 15 – 30% of crops may benefit from treated seed while closer to 100% of corn, 60% of soy and 50% of winter wheat are currently using treated seed. Studies confirm the observation of experienced beekeepers that pesticides are a significant factor on low honey yields and failing colonies. Overwinter mortality rates continue at unsustainable levels. Other negating influences include colonies that crash in the fall, fewer bees per colony, and premature queen failures requiring costly queen replacements are symptomatic of pesticide exposure. Mites and diseases compound pesticide negative effects on colony health. Mites and other bee diseases create problems for beekeepers with colonies already weakened from pesticide exposure.
Climate change is causing unusual weather patterns and spiking seasonal temperatures. Each year the unique cycles of wet and dry seasons and weather events present new challenges. New invasive species, such as Small Hive Beetle have arrived from the U.S. and are establishing themselves in Ontario.
Global trade is resulting in more adulterated and/or cheaper honey on shelves in Ontario and Quebec. Ontario beekeepers find their business with large retail chains is frequently being undercut by dumped honey products from South America or Asia. Changes in labelling laws have been delayed. Imported honey products continue to show a Canada No.1 label.
For many years, the government of Ontario has helped Ontario Beekeepers address bee health issues and grow their business. OMAFRA’s provincial apiculturist and its best-in-class bee inspection program has been a vital and invaluable partner. Foodland Ontario’s honey features have been of great value to a small industry that cannot afford to advertise. Since September 2019, a new federal and provincial government program has committed more than $221,000 to support 135 projects for individual beekeepers. And annually Ontario has provided transfer payments which allow the OBA to deliver beekeeper education programs through its world-class Technology-Transfer Program.
This is indeed welcome support but there is more the government of Ontario must do if we are to sustain our beekeeping industry and our ability to manage healthy hives needed for honey production and pollination.
The former 3-year transfer payment (TPA) to the OBA has been replaced with an annual project-based grant under the Grass Roots Program. We need better consultation with OMAFRA on program design so that support, such as the Grass Roots Program better fits the needs of the beekeeping community and Ontario’s agricultural industry: • On-site and online education and training to upgrade the skills of beekeepers at all levels • Support for the breeding, production and marketing of Ontario-bred disease resistant queens • Support for market development of value added products, such as mead and beeswax-based cosmetics • Support for local beekeeping associations, as extensions of OBA-based training and education • Applied research to develop new tools, equipment and treatments.
Pesticide exposure from the overuse of pesticides continues to be a serious problem for beekeepers in in Ontario where 60% or more of Canada’s corn and soy is grown. The widespread application of persistent water-soluble seed treatments has declined only 25%, despite Class 12 legislation. New pesticides introduced to replace neonicotinoids continue to be problematic for honey bee, bumble bee and wild pollinator health, as well as other species habitat such as aquatic invertebrates.