Overview of the Canadian Apiculture Industry
Canadian Honey Council
There are approximately 7,000 beekeepers in Canada operating a total of 600,000 colonies of honeybees. The ratio of commercially operated bee colonies to those owned by hobbyists is 80:20 and the reverse is true for the number of operators i.e 20% of the beekeepers maintain 80% of the colonies.
The prairie provinces of Alberta Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the major honey producers in Canada. Approximately 475,000 colonies are located in the prairie provinces and they produce 80% of Canada’s crop.
Commercial prairie beekeepers maintain 500 – 13,000 colonies per beekeeper with average 2,000 colonies.
Pollination of hybrid canola is important in Alberta where 80,000 colonies are required for seed production.
Eastern Canada and BC
6 provinces have 70% of Canada’s beekeepers. Commercial beekeepers in Eastern and BC beekeepers operate small to medium size operations of 50-5,000 colonies with average 600 colonies for the commercial beekeeper.
The majority of commercial beekeepers in these provinces are involved with pollination services for the horticulture industry particularly blueberries and apples.
Honey bees are vital for the pollination of fruit, vegetables and hybrid canola seed. Well pollinated crops produce more fruit and honey bees increase production by 2-8 times.
The value of honey bees to pollination of crops is estimated at over $2 billion annually.
Canada ranks 1st in the world for canola production.
Pollination of canola is a major activity for the Canadian honey bee industry. Each year around 300,000 colonies of honey bees (half the colonies in Canada) contribute to the annual crop of 12.6 million tonnes of open pollinated canola oil seed. As well, another 80,000 colonies (approximately 12% of the colonies in Canada) are dedicated to pollinating the highly specialized hybrid seed canola industry. This hybrid seed industry is dependent on honey bees for precise pollen transfer of specific genetic lines.
Canada ranks 2nd in the world for blueberry production. (North American produces 75% of the world’s blueberries).Beekeepers provide around 35,000 colonies of honey bees for blueberry pollination.
Canada is 16th in the world for apple production and beekeepers supply around 15,000 colonies for the pollination of tree fruit.
Canada produces 75 million pounds of honey annually. Approximately one third of the crop is from AB, one third from SK and MB, one third from rest of country. Half of all honey produced is exported, 80-90% is exported to the USA.
Honey Bee Season
Prairie Provinces have four months of honey production (May-August). Quebec and northern NB also have a short season (mid May – mid Sept). The active season in other regions is April- October (longer for coastal BC).
- Hive health
- High production costs
- Reliance on imported packages and queens
- Competition from low priced imported honey
- Few new entrants to the industry
- Reliance on foreign workers
- Few value added products
A high percentage of Quebec colonies are wintered indoors. This method of overwintering has gained some popularity in northern Alberta and northern BC. Everywhere else the majority of colonies are wintered outdoors using varieties of insulated wrapping material. Different methods of management allow beekeepers to overwinter bees in 1, 2 or 3 brood chambers.
Winter mortality has been the highest on record. The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists reported the following winter loss figures in 2008 BC-38%, AB 44%, SK 26%, MB 28%, ON 33%, QC 19%, NB 29 %, NS 18%, PEI 36%.
The cause of colony death is complex but has mainly been attributed to the failure of varroa mite treatments through mite resistance to chemicals, incomplete or incorrect formic acid treatment. Some losses were attributed to poor nutrition in fall which was compounded by drought and grasshoppers.
Varroa Mite Situation
.Varroa mites were first reported in New Brunswick in 1989. Since then the mites have spread across Canada. Over time the mites have developed resistance to the synthetic chemical treatments (fluvalinate and coumaphos). All provinces are reporting treatment tolerant varroa mites
Value to PollinationThe average rental fee per hive is $120 (ranging from $90 for blueberries and $150 for canola).
The estimated value of honey bees to crop pollination in Canada is over $2 billion.