by SUSAN MANN
The use of neonicotinoid pesticide-treated seeds by corn and soybean farmers was not among the options listed as causing bee colony losses that beekeepers could check off in a national survey.
But there was an opportunity in the survey for respondents to add their own ideas about what caused their honeybee colonies to die or become unviable over the winter.
Canada’s average wintering losses of bee colonies for 2014/15 at 16.4 per cent is one of the lowest losses since 2006/07 and is a 34.4 per cent decrease compared to the 2013/14 winter, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists’ report says. The survey and report have been done annually since 2007.
“Neonicotinoids was a major issue in Ontario and Quebec but in the other provinces there was no complaint about it,” says association president Medhat Nasr.
There was considerable variation in the causes beekeeper respondents reported for their losses, the report says. The top four answers included starvation, weak colonies, poor queens, Nosema and weather conditions.
The section on causes in the survey listed items “we know are consistent across the country,” he explains. Respondents also had the option of saying they didn’t know the causes of their loss or they could write in other factors not included in the supplied list.
Some respondents mentioned neonicotinoids as the cause for their losses but not enough beekeepers gave that response for it to be included in the top four causes of wintering losses, Nasr says.
The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association noted in a July 19 press release the use of the controversial pesticide has been implicated in bee deaths in Ontario by Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency.
Ontario grows almost two-thirds of the corn and soybeans in Canada with nearly all of the corn planted here and 65 per cent of the soybean seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
“The only way to explain our excessive winter losses is the amount of corn and soybeans treated with neonicotinoids,” association president Tibor Szabo says in the release.
Earlier this month, Ontario’s government introduced regulations that are being phased in over two years to cut the acreage planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 per cent by 2017.
Ontario’s average winter losses of bee colonies in 2014/15 dropped compared to the previous year but are still way above what beekeepers consider a sustainable loss, which is 15 per cent. Ontario’s average of 37.8 per cent is 34.8 per cent lower than the previous year’s loss of 58 per cent, according to the apiculturists association report.
Once again, Ontario’s loss is the highest reported across Canada and is more than double the national average of 16.4 per cent.
Provincial apiculturists collected the survey data from Canadian beekeepers owning 362,949 honeybee colonies. That represents 50.8 per cent of all colonies operated and wintered in Canada in 2014/15.
Respondents could complete the survey by mail, phone, email or online. The survey included a standardized set of questions.
Nasr says the report shows “us where the industry stands this year.” The report outlining the causes of overwintering colony losses helps the industry develop policies “to mitigate these issues,” he notes.
For Ontario, the total number of colonies operated in 2014/15 was 112,800, the report says. The percentage of Ontario’s colonies included in the survey was 34.3 per cent. BF