Bees in Alberta are making a comeback a decade after being hit by a mite infestation and a harsh winter that depleted hives by 30 per cent in the province.
The population has increased from 223,000 hives in 2007 to 305,000 in 2016, Medhat Nasr, an apiculturist with Alberta’s agriculture ministry, told CBC News Tuesday.
The reason for that, he said, was the province’s monitoring of three variables that can affect bee health: mites, viruses and a parasite called Nosema.
“We started educating them on how to move from being reactive to become proactive,” Nasr said of the beekeepers in Alberta.
He said bee colonies were infested in 2007 when the varroa mite developed a resistance to a pesticide used against it at the time.
“It became like a storm took over the bee colonies,” he said. “The whole industry was taken by surprise even though we were expecting it.”
European pesticide, organics to the rescue
For the past nine years, beekeepers have depended on a different kind of pesticide from France, used specifically to attack the varroa mite. Nasr said the chemical is safe for bees and honey production.
“We are encouraging them to use other organic products to help in mite control so they can alternate between these products, to improve their management system for bee colonies.”
Craig Toth with the Edmonton District Beekeepers Association said he suffered heavy colony losses in 2007. He agrees that the key to healthier colonies is education.
“I think now there’s just so much more awareness … which is great because I have my colonies on multiple farmyards.”
Toth said producers are monitoring their hives, testing for diseases and treating diseases in a timely fashion, which is a fairly new approach.
“My colonies are extremely strong,” he said.
Nasr, who is also the president of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA), said the group is expected to release data on 2017 colony losses next week.
Alberta is home to 43 per cent of Canada’s bee population.