Delayed crops good news for Alta. honey producers

BEAVERLODGE, Alta. — Crop progress in Alberta’s Peace River region ranges from canola in full bloom, a result of harvest problems last fall, to crops barely emerged.

That maturity range bodes well for honey producers, said BeeMaid Honey chief executive officer Guy Chartier.

The longer there are blossoms available, the better it is for honeybees.

“I’ve been travelling across the Prairies in the last three weeks, and I’d say generally speaking (crops are) delayed everywhere,” he said.

“Most beekeepers probably see that as a good thing because it gives them a chance to rebuild their hives, their bees, in time for the season, for the flowers that come out. We’re fairly optimistic to have a good season and hopefully the honey prices will hold up.”

Chartier said prices are stronger than they were a year ago, a result of export demand and findings from a European Commission study into the levels of adulteration in Chinese honey. Europe is the largest importer of honey in the world.

“I think a lot of the European packers were a little gun shy about buying Chinese honey (before the report came out) because they really thought the numbers were going to be quite high of adulterated honey coming into Europe, and it ended up it was about 14 percent so I’m not sure it was as high as they anticipated.”

While waiting for that report, Europe bought more honey from Argentina, pushing up the price. Buyers turned to Canada in search of a cheaper product, boosting prices here, Chartier said.

Any surplus honey in Canada has now been sold and that bodes well for marketing the coming crop, he added.

Grant Hicks, past-president of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission, said honey prices hover around $1.50 per pound, which is approaching break-even and far better than the $1.15 offered six to eight months ago.

“It’s not where it needs to be yet, but it’s getting close,” said Hicks. “This is a great time of year because the sky’s the limit. Potential is a great thing but you can’t take it to the bank.”

Hicks, a large honey producer based in McLennan, Alta., has about 11,000 hives, which he winters in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley.

His record of low hive losses changed this year with the highest overwintering losses he has ever experienced.

Though there were some unusually cold temperatures in the Okanagan this year, he isn’t sure what caused the problem. There were no radical changes in how his bees were managed so he is looking for answers.

Hicks said other beekeepers in Alberta also experienced losses but others did not. The variability speaks to the need for more investigation.

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