cover story

Blues and bees aren’t mixing well

Lack of nutrition and possible fungicide problemcause concern among beekeepers. By Judie Steeves


eekeepers are concerned about the health of bees after they’ve been in blueberry fields for pollination, and the suspicion is that fungicides might be an issue, though nothing has been proven.

Kerry Clark is president of the B.C. Honey Producers’ Association, which held its annual meeting this fall in Kelowna, along with the Canadian Honey Council. He says beekeepers are noticing increased bee health issues after they’ve been pollinating blueberry fields.

“Some beekeepers won’t go into blueberry fields now,” Clark notes. Although fungicides are believed to be non-toxic, they do increase bees’ susceptibility to diseases. As well, nutrition for bees is not the best in blueberry fields, so commonly hives need to be supplemented.


Bees likely forage in surrounding fields when they are placed in blueberry fields, so even the blueberry grower can’t control what the bees get into. Many growers in Ontario are now using bio-fungicides, he adds. “Although blueberry pollination can be important to beekeepers, if it costs the health of their bees, it may not be worth it,” Clark says.

BCHPA vice-president Jeff Lee agrees, noting that if blueberry growers don’t get a handle on it they won’t get the pollination they need. “Blueberry growers have a multi- million dollar production that’s exported around the world, so the reputation of the B.C. industry is at stake if the issue can’t be resolved. “Personally, I want to see a good relationship between beekeepers and

berry and tree fruit growers. As a commercial

beekeeper, we are very supportive of orchardists and berry growers. But, if my bees are hurt and I don’t get any production after pollination...” Lee is also

concerned that some berry growers have a cavalier attitude about the use of products that are of concern to beekeepers.

“We don’t want our bees exposed and yet


Jeff Lee (L) and Kerry Clark of the B.C. Honey Producers Association.

there are some growers who don’t pay attention to that. There’s a responsibility on the part of growers, the council and crop consultants to educate themselves about this,” Lee adds.

Beekeepers have no idea what growers are putting on their crops or what they mix in their tanks, he says, adding that the use of chemicals is an issue that affects wild pollinators as well as domestic bees.

Lee advises growers to be aware of the need for bees to have a diverse diet. So, leave those dandelions between the rows until the pollinators are done. On the whole, Lee believes growers are much more conscious of pollinator issues than they used to be, but it’s important everyone be aware of what’s happening.

He explains that of the 47-49,000 hives in the province, about half are likely used to pollinate berries, while some go to the Okanagan to pollinate tree fruit crops and others are just used for honey production or are part of too small an operation for commercial pollination.

Lee admits there are not enough colonies in the province to provide all the pollination services needed. Studies are under way to look at bee health among those used to pollinate

blueberry fields, but more research needs to be done, he said.

Provincial apiculture specialist Paul van Westendorp says there is a tendency for beekeepers to blame conditions during pollination for signs of disease in colonies afterwards, but he emphasizes there is no reliable information on that yet.

“There’s speculation it’s caused by fungicides, but we don’t know that. Our lab results don’t support that.” He did say it’s important there be closer liaison between growers and beekeepers. Growers are only permitted to use certain products on their crops, but there might also be limitations on the label of a product regarding the timing of an application. Often, that’s because it can have an impact on non- target organisms such as bees or other pollinators.

There also can be issues with adjacent fields. It’s recommended that beekeepers go to the neighbours when they place colonies out for pollination and ask them to notify the beekeeper if they are applying any chemicals so they can remove their colonies first. It’s important there be an effort at preventing bee poisoning, he adds. Collaboration, education and prevention are all-important.

British Columbia Berry Grower • Spring 2018 5

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