Blueberry growers in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will find it difficult to find bees to pollinate their fields this year after three Albertan beekeepers have refused to send their colonies to B.C.
The beekeepers are concerned that blueberry pollination is harmful to their bees, making them weaker and less healthy.
Between them, the three Albertan beekeepers represent 6,000 colonies and their joint decision will cost the blueberry industry an estimated $12 million to $15 million in lost crops, according to John Gibeau, owner of the Honeybee Centre in Cloverdale.
B.C. imports about 20,000 beehives from Alberta every year for blueberry pollination alone — that’s 800 million bees making their way from one province to the other.
Commercial blueberry fields typically require one to four hives per acre. Without pollination, the blueberry crop will not yield fruit.
Scott Gordon, owner of Bee Natural Apiaries in Maple Ridge and who also works for the Ministry of Agriculture as an apiary inspector for the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver, doesn’t quite understand why the beekeepers are concerned about blueberry pollination in particular.
He says all pollination contracts are hard on bees, especially in mono-culture areas like Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
“Bees need a variety in their diet, several types of pollen and nectar in order to maintain good hive health,” said Gordon.
“In large mono-culture areas like Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, it can often be hard on bees to maintain a healthy diet, so we need to supplement them, usually with a pollen supplement to keep them healthy,” Gordon added.
The price of honey has an influence on the migration of certain beekeepers, said Gordon, and he believes this may be the case for the beekeepers from Alberta.
“Pollination can often reduce their annual production of honey, and if they are not getting compensated enough in blueberry pollination to make up the loss that they get in honey production, then they might op to stay at home and keep healthier bees,” he said.
Gordon will be running between 500 and 700 colonies this year and he tries not to go far with them. His bees are contracted out to farmers in Chilliwack, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Cloverdale and Langley.
He has also raised his pollination prices to compensate for the extra labour and food being put into the hives to keep the bees healthy.
Since 2003 Gordon’s blueberry pollination price was $65 per hive but this year he is charging $120 per hive for the pollination of blueberries and $150 for the pollination of cranberries, “due to a shortage of bees in the Fraser Valley and growing demand for pollinators,” he wrote on the Bee Natural Apiaries website.
Gordon said that there has always been a shortage of bees for blueberry pollination because there are just so many blueberry producers in the province.
Some growers, he said, don’t contract bees, but the more successful growers who understand the importance of pollination do.
“And a lot of them are not going to get bees this year and that’s really going to hurt their production.”
Gordon said the province is always about 14,000 colonies short for pollination. This year, he expects there will be an additional shortage of 10,000 colonies.
For its part, the B.C. Blueberry Council, which represents more than 600 members, said in a prepared statement that it is aware of the concerns that were raised by the B.C. Honey Producers Association about the poor health of bees after the pollination of blueberry fields and is taking anything that affects its member seriously.
However, B.C. Blueberry Council chair Jack Bates said in the statement, the majority of growers are not concerned about a lack of bees to pollinate this year’s blueberry crops.
“At this point in time, we do not believe that our annual blueberry production will be greatly impacted by this issue,” Bates wrote.
– with files from Samantha Anderson, Cloverdale Reporter, a Black Press affiliate.