"The situation is critical."
Bee populations in Quebec are declining at a historic rate. While winter temperatures reduce the number of colonies every year, local beekeepers are sounding the alarm about the magnitude of this season's losses.
"Quebec has averaged a 21% decline in bee populations over the past five years, but the losses reported this spring by our members are of historic magnitude, with an average of 60%. It's unheard of in the history of the province,” said President of Les Apiculteurs et Apicultrices du Québec (AADQ) Raphaël Vacher.
Experts attribute this year's higher than usual bee mortality to a parasite called Varroa destructor that was first recorded in Quebec in the early 90s. Temperature fluctuations at the start of this year created the conditions for the parasite to thrive. Ongoing climate change makes the bug a bigger threat than ever moving forward.
“The situation is critical not only for the beekeeping sector but also for other industries who rely on pollination to succeed," said Martin Caron, the general president of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA).
Fruit trees, berries, apples, and squash all rely on pollinating insects to grow. In fact, Quebec blueberry growers rent nearly 30,000 beehives each year to pollinate their fields.
Caron said the government needs to intervene financially to support beekeepers in repopulating colonies.
"The usual assistance programs of La Financière agricole du Québec are not designed to deal with this exceptional context. What is required is an aid fund specially dedicated to the reconstruction of the herd, the development of the sector, and its productivity," said Caron.
The UPA and AADQ are asking the federal and provincial governments for $12 million in funding to revive and modernize the beekeeping sector. Both groups also say more investment in research is needed to find ways to better fight parasites.
Statistics Canada found that Quebec's beekeeping sector had more than 500 producers last year and produced 4.6 million pounds of honey, generating $17 million in revenue.
But the bee mortality rate this year could create disruptions in the supply chain. The cost of importing bees to boost populations will be pricier than ever with transport prices quadrupling since the start of the pandemic.
"The sustainability of the beekeeping sector and those who depend on it is at stake,” said Vacher.