Urban hobbyists send apiarist numbers up

The cost of honey may be sparking interest

The number of beekeepers in Canada has increased 18 percent since 2010.

The country now has 8,777 apiarists compared to 7,403 in 2010, according to a Statistics Canada report on honey production, released Dec. 9.

The increase may be good news for bees, but national honey production isn’t on the rise. Canada produced 81.6 million pounds of honey in 2014, compared to 81.7 million lb. in 2010.

Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council, said the beekeeper expansion hasn’t boosted honey production because most of the new entrants are “backyard” hobbyists.

“What you have is a whole bunch of beekeepers, which could be urban beekeepers with one colony, and they don’t really contribute to the overall number of honey production,” Scarlett said.

His observation is more obvious when Ontario and British Columbia data is separated from the national statistics.

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Ontario had 2,600 beekeepers in 2010 and 3,262 in 2014.

B.C. had 1,865 beekeepers in 2010 and 2,405 in 2014.

Ontario beekeepers produced 8.2 million lb. of honey in 2014 and B.C. produced 3.8 million lb.

Manitoba, in comparison, has only 546 beekeepers, but they produced 14.1 million lb. of honey, more than B.C. and Ontario combined.

Scarlett said the number of commercial apiarists in Canada, who produce most of the honey, has been steady the last few years.

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“It’s growing a little bit, it’s definitely stable.”

Urban beekeeping, on the other hand, is exploding in Canada. The Globe & Mail reported this summer that the number of beekeepers has tripled in Toronto over the last five years, going from 100 to more than 300. Ontario’s beekeeping boom ex-tends well beyond Toronto because the province has 27 regional beekeeping associations.

Scarlett said some of the hobbyists might be motivated by environmental reasons because they want to preserve bees. Others may be motivated by profit.

“The other thing that is attracting people … is the value of honey is going up,” he said. “If you can get a couple of colonies going … and to be able to sell that honey at $10 per lb. at the farmers market … that’s not a bad investment for the work involved.”

Scarlett said there is another reason why beekeeper numbers are increasing in Canada but honey production is not.

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“We have (more) beekeepers that are moving colonies to do pollination,” he said. “As you do that, it impacts your honey production.”