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FEBRUARY 2019 • COUNTRY LIFE IN BC


39 Big bucks being spent to protect bee health


Beekeepers paying close attention to blueberry research


by PETER MITHAM VICTORIA – The verdant


pastures of the Fraser Valley and lofty mountains are an idyllic setting. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada bee researcher Marta Guarna envies the bees that forage here, spending their entire lives in such beautiful surroundings.


But dangers lurk in the


fields. An Alberta beekeeper arrived with 2,000 colonies last spring hoping his bees would spend a month foraging in local blueberry fields and multiplying so he could split the hives and take 4,000 back to Alberta for canola pollination. Instead, he took back fewer than 2,000. The phenomenon is why Guarna was engaged to lead a study of how pollinating Fraser Valley blueberries might be impacting bee health. The work was conducted in partnership with Steve Cornell and Abdulla Ibrahim, also of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as Patricia Wolf Veiga of the National Bee Diagnostic Centre, UBC researcher Leonard Foster and US bee specialist Jeff Pettis. The project was launched


by Julia Common, a Vancouver beekeeper and founder of Hives for Humanity, who had noticed problems after her bees had foraged among blueberries. “[She] had seen many


problems in her bees when pollinating blueberries and wanted us to take a more in- depth look,” Guarta told the


annual conference of the BC Honey Producers Association in Victoria at the end of October. “She participated heavily in the planning of the project and actually physically helped us in the field.” Common initially raised her concerns at the BCHPA conference in Kelowna in 2017, and the BCHPA quickly pledged $20,000 for the project, helping launch it. Additional funding came from the Canadian Honey Council and the BC Blueberry Council, which pledged a total of $20,000. All told, government and industry pledged $165,000 worth of financial and in-kind support to the project, which is now entering its second year.


Rushed The first year of research


was organized in what Guarna calls “a very rushed manner.” A total of 220 colonies


provided by five beekeepers were involved in the study, including a cohort of 50 packaged colonies that were kept out of blueberry pollination. Samples of honey and pollen were collected, as well as adult bees and larvae that appeared compromised. Detailed assessments were made of adult populations and brood area and also of health two to three weeks after removal. A total of 6,000- plus data points were collected between April and June.


The initial results indicated that up to 45% of hives could


See ILL next page o Province boosts funding


Pollinators are a tiny but critical element of global food systems, and the research dollars being thrown behind them in BC just keep growing.


The latest boost came during the BC


Honey Producers Association annual meeting in October, when BC agriculture minister Lana Popham announced an additional $50,000 for Bee BC, a program that provides up to $5,000 for small-scale, community-based projects supporting bee health. Delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC, the program has $150,000 available to support at least 30 projects. “It’s not technical, scientific research; it’s more in-the-field, information sharing, peer-


You’ve tried the rest.


Now try the


BEST.


to-peer type research,” explains IAFBC executive director Michelle Koski. The final results will be made publicly


available. Research was to be completed by February 15. To date, 17 applications have been received and 11 projects approved. Besides provincial research funding, the


BCHPA maintains a trust fund of nearly $101,000 to support projects, many of which have been undertaken at Leonard Foster’s lab at UBC. Disbursements help researchers secure matching funds. Disbursements in the latest fiscal year totalled $5,000, supporting projects such as Abby Chapman’s work on gut health in bees.


Peter Mitham


FILE PHOTO


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