The buzz may be back, but beekeepers aren’t claiming victory in their quest to protect pollinators.

After ringing alarm bells last spring following huge die-offs locally, it seems, this spring, the bees are back. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ed Unger’s hives had a tough winter of 2021-2022. Fortunately, for him, a combination of being able to import some bees from Australia and improved conditions overall is spurring a rebound.

“The bees are doing much better this year than they did last year,” Unger said. The third-generation beekeeper suspects it has a lot to do with changing behaviour around pesticides and spraying.

While he understands the need for farmers to spray crops, Unger said the more conscious people are of how, where and when they spray, the better.

“We need a lot of pollination areas where they don’t just destroy the weeds and spray,” he said. “And people in general should be more concerned about it. Let the dandelions grow.”

George Scott, president of the Niagara Beeway and commercial beekeeper in Wainfleet, said he’s also noticed a rebound. He too was quick to caution against getting too ahead in thinking it’s crisis averted.

“I’m going to say that the beekeeping industry needs a whole facelift,” he said.

On the commercial beekeeper side that makes up about 90 per cent of the industry in Niagara, Scott said there are two things that need to happen.

“We need proper conditions. We need a reason to invest,” he said.

For the former, thoughtful chemical use and more native plants in areas big enough to make a meaningful difference is key.

“You need big strips that farmers can put together. You need incentives for farmers, who are the biggest landowners, to put in a hedgerow,” he said.

At the individual and municipal level, he said it means spending less on ornamentals and more on functional plants.

“We need to have a reallocation of things. In Niagara, we spend $73 million a year on ornamental plants … all the native species don’t total $7 million,” he said.

Creating an environment where commercial beekeepers want to invest might take the work of upper levels of government. Scott is an advocate for making change through Global Affairs Canada.

“You need Global Affairs, you need the trade deals and the border, to strengthen it like dairy has. Like the wheat marketing board, like the egg marketing board, like the poultry guys,” he said. Importing bees must be an easy option to benefit not just people like him, but everyone.

“That’s the effect of pollination. It’s like fertilizer. It’s a farm input. Without it, those farms suffer,” he said.

In Beamsville, a combination of good fortune and being a small business kept Rogue Honey from experiencing the same losses other places felt.

“I think maybe because I’m a smaller player in the game, I just pay closer attention to each hive,” said owner Cedric Warburton.

Warburton takes care of 20 hives of western honeybees and said there are a few things to watch for when it comes to hive health, such as mites, pesticides and fungicides.

The mites, which didn’t exist outside of Asia until the 70s and 80s, explained Warburton, plague honeybees worldwide, hindering their ability to reach their full strength.

“It doesn’t matter how good you are at beekeeping. You have to manage them and they’re just kind of a scourge. They put pressure on the hive and transmit disease. And if you don’t manage them, they will overcome your hive, and it (the hive) will fail,” Warburton said.

He agreed that pesticides and fungicides farmers spray on their orchards and crops can also cause losses, hurting everyone.

“If a crop is not pollinated, you will see a drastic reduction in the amount of fruit that any fruit-bearing tree or plant produces is really important in our food production capabilities.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After reports last year of drastic bee losses, Luke Edwards and Beatriz Baleeiro checked in with local beekeepers to get a gauge on the situation in 2023 and the outlook for the vital indicator species and key pollinator for so many other crops.

By Beatriz Baleeiro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 24, 2023 at 11:12

This item reprinted with permission from   Grimsby Lincoln News   Grimsby, Ontario
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