High bee losses reduce honey output, send prices up

Honey production will likely be down on the Prairies this year after high winter losses in Manitoba and below average output in Alberta.


Beekeepers Commission of Alberta president Grant Hicks said honey output was average for his apiary in the Peace River district.


“Our crop was about average…. In our area, I would say production was down mostly because of the colony count being down,” said Hicks.


“The hives that did survive the winter were quite weak, so guys were trying to keep their colony count numbers up by using hives that were weaker than average…. They didn’t get their colony count back, nor did they produce an average crop of honey.”


Based on a beekeeper survey, the Canadian Association of Provincial Apiculturists estimated Alberta wintering losses for 2012-13 at 24 percent. However, Hicks said the figure doesn’t tell the entire story because certain regions had much higher losses.


“South of Highway 1, the winter losses were just average, but north of that they were significantly higher,” he said.


Alberta bee colonies produce an average of 140 pounds per hive, but Hicks said production will be below that this year.


“I think our provincial apiculturist is saying the provincial honey production is down about 25 percent.”


In Manitoba, production per hive will probably be near or above the provincial average of 160 lb. 


Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association president Allan Campbell said total provincial output is likely down because apiarists suffered high losses of 46.4 percent last winter, nearly triple the losses from 2011-12.


“We were down (in his operation) about 1,000 hives from where we needed to be,” said Campbell. “Overall volume was down, but it (yield) was all right on a per hive basis.”


Saskatchewan Beekeepers’ Association president Corey Bacon said results were mixed in the province. Some beekeepers had tremendous honey yields, thanks to a lengthy canola bloom. Other apiarists didn’t recover from a cool spring and wet July.


“There are some crops in the 350 (lb. per hive) range,” he said.


“There are just as many crops in the 160 lb. range.” 


Saskatchewan’s provincial average is 195 lb. per hive.


Saskatchewan apiarists fared better than Manitoba beekeepers with 27 percent colony losses over the winter. Nonetheless, Bacon said a cool April and May retarded colony development.


“Overall winter loss was decent, but (many beekeepers )… experienced loss throughout spring,” he said.


“The colonies went backward and didn’t build up enough to be a productive colony.”


Bacon said nearly ideal conditions in August, with warm weather and an extended canola bloom, salvaged honey yields on his farm.


“July was probably one of the worst on record for honey production, but August could have been of one of the best.”