Government to compensate for bee losses

MINDEMOYA—The Ontario government has announced that it will compensate beekeepers for unusual losses in their hives this year. The compensation comes in the face of growing concern over global bee losses and the general decline in the numbers of these crucial crop pollinators, according to the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association (OBA).

“We recognize the critical role pollinators and beekeepers play in maintaining a healthy environment and productive agri-food sector,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is also the Minister of Agriculture and Food. “We want to keep honey bee colonies strong going into the growing season, working with the industry to support long-term sustainability for beekeepers and the health of all pollinators.”

“We are pleased that the Ontario government has taken a first step toward helping beekeepers,” said Dan Davidson, president of the Ontario Beekeepers Association. “While the compensation plan doesn’t solve the problem, it will help mitigate losses that Ontario beekeepers have suffered from the harsh winter and the inappropriate use of neonicotinoid pesticides.”

Dave Kains of Big Lake is a local beekeeper who could qualify for the compensation, but so far this season he has been too fortunate to qualify. “We only lost about eight percent over the winter,” he said. “We have been good and lucky. I have heard rumours of some pretty heavy losses.”

Compensation being offered to beekeepers includes $105 per hive to beekeepers with more than 10 hives who experience hive mortality of over 40 percent of their colonies between January 1 and October 31, 2014, according to the Ministry of Agriculture website.

“OBA has been advocating for over a year for beekeeper compensation related to extraordinary bee deaths,” wrote Mr. Davidson in a recent letter to Ontario beekeepers heralding the announcement. “The amount per hive provided under this program is significantly less than we were proposing; however, we feel it is a good first step and shows awareness of the hardships many Ontario beekeepers are experiencing. We are pleased, as well, that losses will include those occurring over the summer and early fall, and not just winter. This is significant. Ontario is the first province to compensate beekeepers for losses likely caused by pesticides as well as other causes. We will be getting back to everyone with further information as it becomes available.”

“It doesn’t cover everything,” agreed Mr. Kains, “but it is a big help if beekeepers can get something when they have a catastrophic loss.”

[pullquote]“It doesn’t cover everything,” agreed Mr. Kains, “but it is a big help if beekeepers can get something when they have a catastrophic loss.”[/pullquote]

Mr. Kains said that he understands from the Sudbury Beekeeper’s Association that there are about 119 beekeepers across Northern Ontario who would qualify for the compensation.

The pollen has started to come into the hives already this spring. “I have seen a little bit coming in,” said Mr. Kains. The hives will need to be treated against mites when the temperatures rise consistently above 10 degrees and before the honey flow begins in earnest. Pollen is a key ingredient in the formation of new bees, providing the protein to provide the building blocks for bee larvae to form into bees.

Bees in some parts of Canada began dying in record numbers when the corn planting season began. When the dead bees were collected and tested by Health Canada, 70 percent were found to have traces of neonicotinoids on them.

“Based on the preliminary information evaluated to date, there is an indication that pesticides used on treated corn seeds may have contributed to at least some of the 2012 spring bee losses that occurred in Ontario,” reads Health Canada’s Ontario Bee Incidents 2012 report.

But the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO) does not agree with that assessment.

“Neonicotinoid seed treatments are an important tool for Ontario’s grain farmers,” reads the GFO statement. “Without this technology, Grain Farmers of Ontario estimates a significant reduction of yield and loss of income for our farmers. The success of our crops is critical not only to the farmer’s bottom line, but also to livestock producers, the food ingredient industry, the renewable fuels industry, the bio-products industry, and many other downstream users. The impact of reduced yield would be felt across the province.” Corn is primarily pollinated by wind dispersal.

The likely culprit in neonicotoid dispersal has been fingered as the dust kicked up in the process of planting and treating corn, possibly lending credence to the GFO assertion that the treated seeds are safe for pollinators, provided proper use and handling guidelines are followed.

The battle lines are drawn however, with Europe already having banned the use of the product and conflicting scientific studies clouding the view forward. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has sent a letter to several federal cabinet ministers asking that Health Canada expedite the study of the pesticides to determine the review of the pesticides.