“There have been a couple drastic episodes for beekeepers, especially around the Bruce Peninsula,” says Ann Board, who runs Board’s Northern Nectars along with her husband, Stefan, and daughter, Jamie.
In July, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturalists, an organization dedicated to studying and monitoring the beekeeping profession, reported that almost 46 per cent of Ontario honey bee colonies were devastated over the winter.
The main cause of colony failures was cold weather, but the fragility of the colonies means further dangers to the bees can have disastrous effects. Pesticide use can also combine with other factors to turn weak colonies into failed ones.
The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association has asked the province’s new minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to look again at support programs for beekeepers in light of the terrible winter. They’re also continuing to campaign for a ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides.
In 2015, the Ontario government decided to cut back on the amount of farm land that would use the pesticides, which are dangerous for bees. The regulations were meant to cut neonicotinoid use by 80 per cent.
Neonicotinoids “interrupt their system to come back home,” says Stefan Board. Or if they do get home, it’s common to see them die “on the landing pad.
“It’s not pretty,” he says.
Stefan is particularly worried that the restriction of the current strain of neonicotinoids would simply lead to the usage of other, untested pesticides that he said are in the works.
“Regrettably, in this day and age, everybody is looking for the quick fix,” he says. “Are we going from the frying pan into the fire?”
Luckily for the Restoule-based Board farm, few farmers in the Nipissing region grow the crops — primarily wheat and barley — that most commonly use neonicotinoid pesticides. As a result, they’ve been able to avoid the damage from the chemicals that other beekeepers have experienced.
“We’re blessed we don’t have the same usage. We haven’t been impacted” as much, Stefan says.
And locally, Stefan says they’ve received a great deal of support and co-operation from the city of North Bay and surrounding municipalities when it comes to wintering their hives and avoiding placing them next to farms using pesticides.
But the family of beekeepers is still worried about the industry as a whole. “We hope [the effort] is successful,” Ann Board says.
The issue of pesticide use is so important — and a high priority for the Beekeepers’ Association — because its effects can be “systemic,” she continues. “It goes into the soil and the water.
“The implications are not just for the bees, but for other species, as well,” like birds, Ann Board says. Because of that, she hoped the new Ontario government will look to help safeguard and secure beekeepers and their colonies.
“It’s something that we all have responsibility for.”
She hoped the new Ontario government will work with beekeepers in order to represent “others who can’t speak for themselves.”
In this case, she says, that means the honey bees.
With files from Jeffrey Ougler, Postmedia