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B.C. crops in dire need of honeybees

By Stefania Seccia

Brian Campbell, of Blessed Bee Apiaries, is teaching a new honeybee course at Langara College.
(Stefania Seccia, 24 hours)

Brian Campbell, of Blessed Bee Apiaries, is teaching a new honeybee course at Langara College. (Stefania Seccia, 24 hours)

While a major shift is buzzing around commercializing beekeeping for pollination to keep up with future B.C. farming demand, it may prove a fruitless effort if the synchronicity between the plants and the bees is mismatched.

Much like the rest of the world, there’s a bee shortage in B.C. — and the agricultural industry is being hit the hardest, which is why the province’s first-ever commercial beekeeping program is being introduced by Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The beekeeping program is receiving $350,000 in funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

Jim Pelton, KPU executive director of continuing and professional studies, said the pollination-dependent crops comprise an increasing portion of the province’s agricultural landscape — with honeybee pollination already responsible for more than an annual $200 million in agricultural production.

It’s a significant change since keeping hives for pollination was once a secondary business behind honey production.

“In the province now we have somewhere between 45,000 and 50,000 hives — there’s not enough going around.”

Beehives from Alberta have been brought in to B.C. to meet demand, as the province’s 20,000 acres of blueberry farms alone require 60,000 bee colonies for pollination. One acre requires at least three hives for pollination.

“Fundamentally, there’s not enough hives as there is,” Pelton said.

Honeybees already inject about $275 million into the provincial economy, according to ministry figures.

However, a concern is growing among beekeepers and farmers as this year’s early spring could cast a bleak shadow over crop production — especially as the blueberries have already begun to bloom and honeybees will have to catch up.

For the last 20 years Brian Campbell, founder of Blessed Bee Apiaries, has observed and kept honeybees.

He said plants and honeybees, although they evolved to coincide with one another, have different signals of when to bloom and begin pollinating, which means “bees either come out too late or too early.”

“There’s a real pollination crisis,” he said. “I try to get beekeepers to take the best care of their bees versus making the most profit.”

Campbell said that in the late 1960s, scientists realized 10% of the flowering plants were going without pollination, but now that number has jumped to more than 60%.

“The honeybee is not necessarily going to save us,” he said. “But keeping them healthy is a key component to a sustainable environment.”

He’s also offering a new course coming to Langara College this summer, which focuses on the essentials of getting started for the backyard beekeeper in an effort to promote bee conservation.

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