Bumper Crop

honey prize ribbonThe numbers are in and the prize goes to Alberta. Alberta, a province in western Canada, has once again won the prestigious honey production award. For those of us who learnt beekeeping where 50-pound crops are the norm (in my case, Pennsylvania), the size of western Canadian honey crops seems the thing of fairy tales, right up there with fire-breathing dragons. Last year’s crop was 145 pounds. (66 kilos) That’s the average per hive from over 250,000 colonies in Alberta. Many colonies did much better. The average would have been higher, but about 30,000 colonies were rented to seed growers – pollination bees didn’t make much honey.

One of our more scenic yards, south of Calgary, in sight of the Rockies

One of our more scenic yards, south of Calgary, in sight of the Rockies

If you don’t know much about western Canada, I’ll tell you this about Alberta. The place is big (bigger than France, for example). About half is forested. A large and scenic chunk is in the Rocky Mountains. Alberta’s two big cities (Edmonton and Calgary) each have over a million folks. We also have the ideal place for honey-making.

Alberta on a map

What makes a bee paradise? Sunny days help. Long, clear, warm days with just enough rainfall to keep nectar flowing but not so much that the bees are kept in their hives for days on end. The right sort of flowers. (Here, that’s canola, clover, and alfalfa.) Strong, healthy bees are also essential.

Honey by the barrel.

Canadian honey by the barrel.

Alberta keeps surprising me with its great crops and healthy bees. Our bees should have been killed long ago by neonicotinoids. Neonics are used heavily here. 99% of Alberta’s 6 million acres of canola oil seed crops are treated with neonicotinoids. Honey bees work canola enthusiastically. Yet, Alberta bees have not suffered the ruination that neonics are alleged to have caused in some other parts of the world. Neonicotinoids are undoubtedly poison to bees, but after continuous and almost ubiquitous use here for a decade, the insecticide has not yet destroyed Alberta beekeeping. Instead, the bees continue thriving, wintering well, and making bumper crops of honey. If neonicotinoids are killing the world’s bees, then this does not make sense. Maybe disaster is just around the corner, but after so many years, it should have already struck.

Here are the statistics for the Alberta honey crop, reported by StatsCanada and repeated in the Daily Herald Tribune:

Alberta beekeepers produced 42.8 million pounds of honey in 2015, up 20.4% from 35.5 million pounds in 2014, according to Statistics Canada. Nationwide production rose 11.4% to 95.3 million pounds.
According to Medhat Nasr, Alberta Agriculture’s provincial beekeeper, the weather in 2015 was so kind to the province’s bees that their winter mortality rate was the lowest in 15 years, at 10%.
“That compares to the national average of a 16% loss and the American average of 23%,” he said in a press release. Yields in Alberta rose from 125 pounds per colony to 145 pounds.

CBC news had similarly good reports:

New figures from Statistics Canada show Canadian beekeepers produced 95.3 million pounds of honey in 2015, an increase of 11.4 per cent from the previous year.
The total value of the sweet stuff is up by 10.9 per cent to $232 million due to the increased production.
“The industry is successful and is growing. It really is a positive message,” Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council, said Wednesday.

Finally, the Statistics Canada summary. Notice that Canada has 800 more beekeepers than it had 5 years ago and 85,000 more colonies of bees.

stats canada bees 2

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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4 Responses to Bumper Crop

  1. yes ,but the price has crashed, suggest you research the expanded Chinese honey exports, especially into Europe AND from India, ukraine, … you pick a country they are exporting


    • Miksha says:

      Thanks! It’s true that the price is stabilizing from its over-heated heights. But it’s much better to have a big crop and falling prices than a small crop and hungry colonies at any price for honey! The exports are a reality of international free trade and the fact that the world has more colonies of bees than any time in history. It will be interesting to see how this affects Alberta’s colony count this summer. Thanks much for your note, Irwin! (I see that you have an interesting Facebook page: Canadian Beekeepers Against McCormick’s Imported Chinese. Readers of this blog might enjoy taking a look at it.)


  2. Emily Scott says:

    Perhaps the nutritional benefits of all that great forage are keeping the bees healthy and helping them fight off disease. We are what we eat!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: How did your bees do? | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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