Sharp drop in honey production

Dry, smoky summer in the B.C. Interior resulted in fewer flowers producing nectar for bees.

By Judie Steeves B

etween drought, smoke all across the province and the widespread wildfires that caused the smoke, honey production in B.C. declined significantly in 2017, compared to previous years, although prices were up.

According to the B.C. Beekeeping Production Statistics, 792,849 kilograms of honey was produced in the province last year, compared to 1,933,794 kg in 2016. Those 2017 numbers do not include the Fraser Valley because too few beekeepers from that region submitted data, explains Paul van Westendorp, provincial apiculture specialist, who compiled the figures.

In 2016, Fraser Valley production was 699,411 kg.

Paul van Westendorp

The average honey production per yard declined to 40 kg in 2017, compared to 48 kg in 2016. In the Cariboo, which suffered from devastating wildfires during the worst wildfire season in the province’s history, honey production dropped from 74,936 kg in 2016, to 7,697 kg in 2017. In the Thompson-Okanagan, where no appreciable rain fell for more than two months last summer, and where the skies were frequently shrouded in smoke from the Cariboo’s wildfires as well as smaller local ones, production also dropped, from 646,085 kg in 2016 to 272,835 last season. Bee colony numbers also fell in the Cariboo, from 1,011 colonies in 2016, to 745 in 2017. The numbers were up in the Peace, from 1,505 in 2016, to 2,603 in 2017. With the quantity of honey down, however, prices went up, from an average of $1.76 per pound wholesale in 2016, to an average of $2.47 per lb. in 2017.

Total income from wholesale honey in 2016 was $804,992, while it rose to $1,993,997 in 2017, again excluding figures from the Fraser Valley, which accounted for 27 per cent of the total in 2016.

The average retail price per pound of honey also rose this past season. It was $5.62 in 2016, compared to $6.76 in 2017. Despite the higher prices, because the quantity was lower, the total retail value amounted to $5,232,942 in 2017, somewhat below the total of $7,817,287 in 2016, but that was excluding the Fraser Valley figures, which totalled $1,829,711 in 2016. In all, 27,567 colonies were used for pollination, at an average fee per colony of $93, for a total income of $2,553,543 in 2016; while in 2017, 19,537 colonies were used for pollinating at an average fee of $85, for a total income from pollination of $1,661,445. Again, Fraser Valley beekeeper figures were not part of the 2017 figures, but they

6 British Columbia Berry Grower • Spring 2018

amounted to 18,571 colonies in 2016, at an average fee of $95 per colony for total pollinating income of $1,764,706. Although van Westendorp was reluctant to forecast

whether this past season’s inclement conditions will have an impact on next year’s production, he did say, “If winter is accommodating and it’s followed by a gentle spring, during which the colonies can build up nicely, followed by a wonderful summer where diseases and pests are of no consequence, then 2018 will be a stellar year.” However, the fires and extreme smoke from last summer’s fires did leave many Cariboo beekeepers with no crop of honey. “Flowers shut down; they didn’t produce nectar,” he explained.

Van Westendorp notes that 40,000 bee colonies are brought in from Alberta, along with some from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to help with pollination each spring in B.C., so the true players in producing pollinators are from outside the province.

Blueberry pollination alone uses as many as 15-20,000 colonies, he estimates. Since they need two or three colonies per acre, there simply aren’t enough bees available for adequate pollination.

However, bringing bees into the field for pollination is very cost-effective, he says. It provides greater homogeneity in the crop; a higher sugar content in fruit, a higher yield and earlier maturity, and good production. Intense pollination is needed though, van Westendorp adds.

No standard for hive prices G

rowers requiring pollination of their crops should be prepared to pay good money for good hives to do that critical work for them, according to Paul van


In provinces such as Alberta, beekeepers are compensated on the basis of pollination contracts with standards of pricing, while in B.C. there’s no floor price or premium price. Prices vary.

The Canadian Honey Council recommends a pollination contract between growers and beekeepers to ensure both sides understand their responsibilities and prices and to help prevent misunderstandings.

In California, van Westendorp says, beekeepers’ hives are assessed and a contract drawn up with almond growers based on such variables as the number of frames in a hive and the condition of the queen. The floor price is paid if the hives meet a particular standard, but if a beekeeper offers a higher standard he can receive a premium, depending on the colony strength and condition.

Colonies below the standard are not accepted for pollination in almond orchards.

There should be standardization of hive quality and prices in B.C. as well, van Westendorp believes.

Growers who depend on insect pollination should do their research into the amount of bees they need to get in for pollination, he advises. “Work closely with your beekeeper to optimize the pollination process and if there’s a problem, have the beekeeper correct it.”

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