Winter honeybee losses decline on Prairies

An average loss of 24 percent is lower than the previous year but still higher than what beekeepers would like to see

About 25 percent of Canadian bee colonies did not survive this winter.

That’s average for the last decade or so, but higher than more acceptable losses of around 15 percent.

“The national winter loss, including non-viable bee colonies, was 25.7 percent, with provincial losses ranging from 19.8 to 54.1 percent,” the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) said in its July 22 report on honeybees.

“The overall national colony loss reported in 2019 is in the middle range of reported losses since 2007.”

CAPA surveys beekeepers annually to gauge colony losses across the country.

The association publishes the results of its survey in July.

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Bee colony losses are based on whether a colony is viable at a certain date in May. The date varies from region to region in the country.

“Viable” is defined as a “colony that survived winter with a minimum of four frames with 75 percent of the comb area covered with bees on both sides.”

A 25.7 percent loss is an improvement from 2018, when 32.6 percent of Canadian colonies failed to survive the winter and early months of spring.

On the Prairies, where the majority of honey is produced, colony losses were lower than 2018:

  • Alberta: 34 percent loss in 2018 and 29 percent in 2019
  • Saskatchewan: 28 percent loss in 2018 and 21 percent in 2019
  • Manitoba: 25 percent in 2018 and 21 percent this year

Ontario beekeepers also had a much better winter this year. Colony losses went from 46 percent in 2018 to 23 percent in 2019.

The country-wide improvement is positive, but losses of 29 percent in Alberta, a province with 40 percent of the nation’s bee hives, are relatively high.

Cool weather in April and May might have caused what beekeepers describe as “spring dwindle,” where there’s a shortage of flowers and other forage to sustain honeybees.

Beekeepers in Alberta said weather was the number one reason for colony losses, followed by poor queens and starvation.

It costs time and money to replace bees when producers lose colonies, which can compromise honey production and income from pollination services.

Despite average winter losses of 23.6 percent from 2010-19, Canada’s beekeeping industry is growing.

Beekeepers operated 803,000 colonies in 2018, up significantly from 700,000 in 2013 and 600,000 in 2008.

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