Another tough winter for beekeepers

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May 29: Day of the Honey Bee

Concern continues to grow about the fate of the honey bee, whose pollination skills are key to a quarter or more of the food grown in North America.

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Since 2005, the death rate among managed colonies has risen dramatically, and so far scientists have been unable to figure out why. Typically, commercial beekeepers lose 5% to 10% of their colonies each year. But in what has become known as colony collapse disorder, annual losses of 30% and 40% of hives have become commonplace.

The Canadian Assoc. of Professional Apiarists estimates almost 30% of Canada’s honey bees died in 2011; other sources indicate almost 99,000 hives died or became unproductive in 2012.

On March 28, the New York Times reported the leading federal bee researcher in the U.S. expected the honey bee hive death rate in 2012 would be higher than ever; a Department of Agriculture report is due in May. Early indications this year are that commercial beekeepers as many as 50% of their hives over the winter that just concluded (concluded??).

What is causing that die-off is uncertain, but most believe the growing use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides on crops are central to the problem beekeepers are experiencing. (Drought, mites, and viruses may also be involved.) One type of pesticide in particular, neonicotinoids, are being closely looked at; their introduction fits the time frame of colony collapse disorder.

But there is no conclusive evidence, and analysis of pollen and wax from beehives has found 150 different chemical residues.

A Saskatoon man, Clinton Ekdahl, has been pressing municipal, provincial and federal governments since 2009 to take note of the problem. He champions designating May 29 the ‘Day of the Honey Bee’, and has had a good deal of success. Last year, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, B.C. and 170 municipalities declared the day.

“All across Canada and abroad (U.K., Turkey), beekeepers, apiarists, beekeeping associations, farmer’s markets, schools, municipal groups and others planned activities and events on May 29, and the week surrounding it, to educate and inform the public,” says Ekdahl.

Atikokan Council is now considering a resolution to mark the day this year.

“Many still do not realize how important Honey Bees are to our way of life,” says Ekdahl. “Imagine a world without blueberries, apples, oranges, broccoli, herbs, almonds, peaches, pears and over 90 other food crops.”




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