More than half of P.E.I.'s beehives died over the winter, according to a survey by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists.
It amounted to a loss of about 3,500 hives.
"Opening up your hives, one by one, and seeing that there's nothing there, or that they're not alive, it's heartbreaking," Troy Fraser, president of the P.E.I. Beekeepers Association, told Island Morning host Laura Chapin.
The blame is being laid on varroa mites and paradoxically, warm weather that led to an early start to the season in the spring of 2021. Provincial apiarist Cameron Menzies said the early start for the bees appears to have also provided the parasitic mites, which live in the hives with the bees year-round, an early start as well.
The mites will rarely kill a hive outright, but they can weaken it so it won't survive the winter.
"Sometimes that can get ahead of us before we're able to check on them and treat them right away, so we suspect these varroa mite populations just got out of hand really early," said Menzies.
Treatment timing tricky
It was an issue right across Canada, he said. The CAPA survey estimates almost half of hives across the country were lost.
Most hives on P.E.I. are used both to pollinate crops and produce honey, and that can make the timing of treatment difficult, said Fraser.
"We can't necessarily use certain chemicals or treatments whenever the honey flow is on," he said.
"We can't infect our honey crop; the chemical residue can't be in the honey."
He said he tried an organic treatment during honey harvesting, but it did not work as he hoped. Fraser will produce less honey this year, and focus more on improving the health of his remaining hives.
The honey harvest will not be the only impact on the Island's agriculture.
Conditions for blueberries have been favourable this year, with good snow protection over the winter and few heavy frosts in the spring, said Menzies. The lack of bees for pollinating, with a third fewer hives than usual, however, will likely blunt what otherwise could have been a substantial above average yield, he said.
Producers of apples and cranberries could be similarly affected, said Menzies.