'It may finish us': Beamsville beekeeper warns of disaster after high bee deaths

·4 min read

Mike Parker doesn’t sugar-coat the scale of the problem that his Beamsville beekeeping business is facing.

“It would finish us,” he said.

When he opened his hives after winter, the president and owner of Charlie-Bee Honey wasn’t expecting the scale of the bee deaths he found. But by his estimation, he’s lost around 90 per cent of his bees.

That means “millions and millions” of bees at one site alone. Out of the 8,000 hives that he manages, only 500 are viable. Roughly 7,500 of the bees were completely dead.

He fears that it could be the end of the business, one of the largest apiaries in Ontario that was set up by his father Charlie Parker in 1970.

Now, Parker and other beekeepers across Niagara are demanding action from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

From the CFIA, they want permits to bring in bees from the U.S. to replenish to create viable hives. From OMAFRA, they want tests to determine the cause of the bee deaths.

But Parker and George Scott, managing director of Niagara Beeway, say the agencies aren’t doing enough to help.

“If nothing’s done, there’s no recovery, as far as I can tell,” said Parker.

Belinda Sutton, spokesperson for OMAFRA, said that the ministry “continues work to support Ontario beekeepers through a number of programs, including a targeted beekeeper funding intake to support and strengthen the health of managed honey bees."

She said registered beekeepers can apply for funding to support managed honey bee health and business capacity.

“For example, this includes support to purchase equipment to prevent the introduction and spread of disease, sample and analyze for pests and diseases, and purchase domestically raised queens,” she explained.

In normal years, beekeepers like Parker could replenish their stocks by sourcing queen bees from across the country. But this year, he said, the devastation is so widespread that none are available.

This is backed up by analysis done by OMAFRA and the Ontario Beekeepers Association (OBA). Sutton said that while official statistics are not yet available, “early anecdotal reports indicate a number of provinces and U.S. states are expecting higher than normal managed honey bee colony loss coming out of winter.”

Similarly, Bernie Wiehle, president of the OBA, said that they are seeing a 40 to 50 per cent loss of honeybees across the province, increasing to 70 to 90 per cent in Niagara. Usually, losses of 15 per cent could be expected across the province.

“It’s huge,” he said of the losses.

Wiehle said that beekeepers can usually bring in bees from elsewhere, but those bees aren’t available anymore and prices for remaining bees have doubled.

However, the OBA is adamantly against opening the border to allow the importation of bees. This, they say, could bring a host of long-term consequences, including the spread of foreign diseases and the Africanized bee, a more aggressive species.

“We want a sustainable Ontario industry and to avoid opening up the border,” said Wiehle.

As for the cause of the problem, the OBA blames many issues, but the main one is the Varroa mite.

The mite is a tiny parasite that feeds on honeybees, weakening the bees and spreading diseases.

However, Scott of Niagara Beeway doesn’t share that belief.

“We don’t have a Varroa problem,” he said, “but we have a big mortality problem.”

Instead, Scott blames “chemical warfare on insects.”

“The ministry has been totally negligent in testing dead hives for some identifiable chemical contamination before we reuse our dead hives,” he said. “They blame it on varroa destructor parasite and it simply is not accurate.”

As for Parker at Charlie-Bee, he estimates it will take four years to rebuild his business after this year’s destruction — if the business survives this loss.

“In two years, we may not be here,” he said. He sighed, before adding, “I just do what I can.”

CFIA did not respond to multiple requests for comment prior to time of publication.

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News

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