Alberta beekeepers battle devastating losses threatening hive populations

ECA Review/J.Campbell
Written by ECA Review

Pablo Torres, a worker at Greidanus Honey Bee Farm holding a shelf of honey bees on July 5 at Greidanus Honey Bee Farm just outside of Stettler. These bees are just a few of the bees in one of the hives at Greidanus Honey Bee Farm. ECA Review/J.Campbell

Beekeepers across Alberta find themselves locked in a difficult battle as they confront devastating consequences of severe environmental conditions that have led to a sharp decline in hive populations.

“I lost over 90 per cent of my hives last winter,” said Henry Thomas, owner of Henry’s Honey.

Unrelenting cold weather mercilessly decimated his bee colonies.

“Last year’s temperature fluctuations wreaked havoc on my hives, and current heat is further hindering their growth,” expressed Thomas, who diligently adheres to his tried-and-true beekeeping practices, which have yielded remarkable success over the years.

He emphasized that beekeeping is a complex science, and what works for one beekeeper may not necessarily work for another.

For Thomas, beekeeping holds deeper significance beyond mere financial gain. It is a source of mental and physical well-being.

“Beekeeping brings me joy and contributes to my overall health, both physically and mentally,” he explained.

However, rising costs associated with beekeeping pose an additional burden on beekeepers. Thomas nostalgically recalled his father’s beekeeping endeavours, noting that bee packages were priced at a modest $5. Today, those same packages have skyrocketed to a staggering $300, underscoring financial strains gripping the industry.

Ron Greidanus, owner of Greidanus Honey Bee Farms, highlighted dire situations faced by Alberta’s beekeeping community. The province experienced its worst winter losses, with an average hive loss of 49.5 per cent. Some beekeepers even suffered losses as high as 80 per cent.

Greidanus stressed the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had, which made it challenging to acquire replacement bees and stocks, further exacerbating the crisis.

In response to devastating losses, the Alberta Beekeepers Commission pushed for the Canada-Alberta Bee Colony Replacement Assistance Initiative, an AgriRecovery program delivered by Agricultural Financial Services Corporation initiative to support struggling beekeepers and mitigate the widespread impact.

Greidanus, an Alberta Beekeepers Commission board member, emphasized the urgent need to reestablish trade relations with the United States, particularly for importing package bees, as it plays a vital role in revitalizing the industry and replenishing depleted stocks.

“I know some beekeepers out there in the province; they spent over a million dollars trying to buy replacement stock from wherever they could,” Greidanus said. “Everything available in Canada or overseas was completely sold out in the spring of 2022.”

Greidanus shed light on the intricate factors influencing bee populations. In addition to challenging weather conditions, introducing parasitic varroa mites has wreaked havoc on hives.

He cautioned against the perils of false springs, characterized by temporary warm spells followed by sudden freezes in early April. These weather anomalies disrupt natural life cycles of bees, enabling parasites to flourish and introducing additional pathogens to already vulnerable hives.

According to Greidanus, the impact of a false spring surpasses that of an intensely cold week in winter.

“When you have two weeks at the beginning of April, with nighttime lows plummeting to minus 20 degrees and barely reaching above minus five degrees during the day, the harm inflicted is far greater,” Greidanus explained.

He vividly described the heartbreaking experience, “I mean, you could lie in your bed at night, and you could hear the bees dying.”

Thomas and Greidanus emphasized the best way to see fewer losses is to ensure the bees are going into the winter strong.

Beekeepers with 100 or more colonies under Alberta’s Bee Act may be eligible for compensation through Agricultural Financial Service Corporation.

Jessica Campbell
ECA Review

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