by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Coming off a loss of 43 per cent of Ontario bee colonies last winter, the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association welcomes a federal government grant of $244,000 for research that could lead to a strengthened bee population in Ontario.
Association president John Van Alten said the loss was the biggest on record. “Weather had something to do with it,” he said, adding, “the varroa mite is a big challenge for beekeepers to keep it under control and manage the bees and keep them healthy.”
According the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the varroa mite, about the size of a sesame seed, attaches to the bee and sucks its body fluids. The mite was first reported in Canada in 1989. It has become resistant to most conventional treatments.
While Van Alten couldn’t put a dollar value on the loss, he said the average commercial producer can expect to earn $200 to $300 per colony per year. There are about 80,000 colonies in Ontario.
The federal money will go to private researchers contracted by the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association. They are working to improve the queen bee stocks making them stronger and more resistant to disease.
There is a breeding program that involves eight to 10 queen bee breeders in Ontario, Van Alten said. “Most of the research will centre around the hygienic qualities of that stock to try to improve their ability to withstand the ill effects of the varroa mite and some of the other diseases that affect honey bees in Ontario,” he said.
Van Alten said bee populations can recover a 20 per cent loss in a single season but regaining populations after a 43 per cent loss will be a challenge.
“If you’ve got some healthy stock to work with,” he said, “you can build back up again but 43 per cent would take a couple of years to recover from.” Year over year losses of 43 per cent, he said, would be “unsustainable.”
“Fortunately it’s not every year that we see this,” he said, adding that losses over the previous five of six years have been in the high 20 to low 30 per cent range, higher than they’d like to see.
The funding, announced June 28, is provided by the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program which is delivered in Ontario by the Agricultural Adaptation Council. BF