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Bee biz is brisk

The quality is great, but quantity problem persists with short supply of pollinators. By Grant Ullyot


he bees are looking good,” says John Gibeau, owner of Honeybee Centre in Surrey. “We are booking every day with both former growers and new growers.” There is likely going to be a shortage of bees this year because of the continuing increase in the number of blueberry growers, but Gibeau won’t know for sure until the end of March. He says there are simply not enough bees in B.C. to meet the demand from growers in the Fraser Valley-Lower Mainland area. “All I can say right now is that if any grower has not yet contracted for their supply of bees they had better do it quick to avoid disappointment.” Gibeau says truckloads of bees are brought in from Alberta, but a lot of beekeepers in that province don’t want to ship their bees to B.C. because it doesn’t fit their management style. He remarks that when bees were shipped into Canada from California it was the best system in North America. However, both the American and Canadian governments closed the border to California bees in the late 1980s because of the Varroa mite infestation. Since then it has been an annual struggle to get enough bees to pollinate the berry crops in B.C. and that struggle affects the blueberry growers.

The federal government rejected an attempt to re-establish the importation of California bees in 2014 and Gibeau says he expects nothing will be done for the next decade. He feels strongly that the blueberry industry, as well as the cranberry and other berry sector organizations are the ones who should be putting pressure on the government to again allow bees to be imported from California.

Honeybee Centre stores its bees on 80 different properties and provides bees for pollination of 11 different crops, starting with apples and including all of the berry crops in the Fraser Valley-Lower Mainland and a kiwi crop in Aldergrove. Last year it put 7,000 colonies of bees in

Workers manage beehives at Honeybee Centre in Surrey.

blueberries and a thousand in cranberries. This year the company will start delivering bees to growers on April 20.

Bees are resilient but there are about 30 different things that can kill them.

“The Varroa mite is number one,” notes Gibeau. “Then there is a virus that bites the bee on the back of the neck and if the wound doesn’t close the bee dies.

“A fungus is number three and then there are pesticides. Fortunately, pesticides are not a big problem in B.C. If a pesticide kills the bees on the plants, the hives are still churning out new bees every day.

“I have never lost a hive in 40 years due to poisoning.”

16 British Columbia Berry Grower • Spring 2015

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