2015 Ontario Apiculture Winter Loss and Management Survey

Table Contents


Introduction

Ontario's beekeeping industry is one of the most diverse in Canada. Ontario beekeepers are involved in honey production for a large domestic market, production and sales of queens, nucs and honey bee colonies to satisfy an ever increasing demand for honey bees, as well as pollination services for the fruit and vegetable sector.

The management of honey bees and beekeeping in Ontario are regulated by the Bees Act. The main purpose of the act is to protect the health of honey bees, particularly from pests and diseases. Anyone who owns or is in possession of honey bees must register annually with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). As part of the registration process, beekeepers are required to identify the location of bee yards and the number of honey bee colonies they manage. The provincial apiarist and apiary inspectors appointed under the act inspect for presence of honey bee diseases and pests, abnormal bee losses and issue permits to beekeepers.

The beekeeping industry is not static. The number of colonies and the amount of honey produced varies from year to year and is influenced by weather, management practices, pests/diseases and environmental stressors. The number of colonies operated by beekeepers also fluctuates throughout the year. After a decrease in colony number over the winter months, a beekeeper can build colony numbers during the summer months by splitting larger, healthy colonies into smaller nucleus colonies. In 2014, OMAFRA's Apiary Program reported to Statistics Canada that Ontario beekeepers registered 112,800 colonies. As of December 31, 2014, Ontario beekeepers registered 100,200 colonies for 2015. This represents the number of colonies that were alive going into winter 2014-15.

In recent years, managed honey bee colonies have experienced high losses across many jurisdictions in both Canada and the U.S. In Ontario, winter loss was at a record high of 58% during the winter of 2013-2014. In response to those high winter losses, the Ontario government initiated the Beekeepers Financial Assistance Program (BFAP) in 2014. The program continued in 2015, assisting beekeepers who experienced high honey bee colony losses during the winter to replace and rebuild healthy colonies. Ontario beekeepers now have access to a new production insurance plan - the Bee Mortality Production Insurance Plan - that will help them manage financial loss from winter colony damage.

In addition to estimating honey bee colony losses over the winter months, the 2015 Ontario Apiculture Winter Loss and Management Survey gathered information around the health of the honey bee industry and management practices used by beekeepers in Ontario. This information will be used to provide a better understanding of the factors affecting honey bee health and inform future research and mitigation strategies.

Methodology

During the spring of 2015, OMAFRA's Apiary Program surveyed Ontario beekeepers to estimate honey bee colony losses over the winter of 2014-2015. The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) National Survey Committee establishes a core set of questions for inclusion in each provincial survey to improve the consistency and comparability of honey bee health across the country. The Apiary Program shares this standardized information with CAPA in an aggregated format. Since 2007, CAPA has compiled data provided by each province, published an annual report on national honey bee colony losses, and provided an ongoing picture of the general health of apiculture in Canada.

Beyond the core set of survey questions established by CAPA, each province has the option of asking additional questions to include in their own annual provincial survey that are specifically relevant to their regional conditions, issues and management practices.

CAPA coordinates how the overall winter loss is reported, to ensure consistency across the provinces and survey years. For the purpose of the CAPA national report, the Ontario winter loss percentage is calculated using responses from commercial beekeepers. However, this report is based on the responses provided by all beekeepers collected through the 2015 Ontario Apiculture Winter Loss and Management Survey. The survey seeks the thoughts, impressions and opinions of Ontario's beekeepers and the information provided is voluntary and self-reported.

To align with other Canadian jurisdictions (Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Saskatchewan), the Ontario 2014-2015 overwinter survey was not anonymous, as it has been in previous years. A named survey allows Apiary Program staff to follow up should discrepancies or concerns be detected, and allows for better tracking of trends and issues in the beekeeping sector. The responses to this survey provided by beekeepers, such as the number of colonies that died during the winter, have not been verified by OMAFRA or any other independent body.

Using the number of colonies reported by beekeepers, the provincial overall winter loss is calculated using the following formula:

Winter loss (%) = ((total # of reported dead and nonviable colonies as of May 15,2015 )/(total # of reported live colonies at the start of winter 2014))x 100

A dead colony is no longer commercially viable. A commercially viable colony, is defined as having four frames or more being 75 per cent bee-covered on both sides in a standard 10-frame hive. This definition was harmonized by CAPA in 2015 to ensure that all provinces report in the same manner. Ontario has used the CAPA definition since 2010.

Data from commercial and small-scale beekeepers were analyzed separately. The survey was distributed to 199 registered commercial beekeepers (defined for this purpose as having 50 colonies or greater) and 368 randomly selected small-scale beekeepers (defined for this purpose as having 49 colonies or fewer). Beekeepers had the option of responding electronically via online survey, by submitting a completed hard-copy or by phone. Responses were received from 109 commercial beekeepers and 96 small-scale beekeepers which represents 36 per cent of beekeepers who received the survey.

By beekeeper type, responses were received from 55 per cent of commercial beekeepers representing 38,667 colonies and 26 per cent of small-scale beekeepers representing 1,720 colonies (Table 1). Combined, the responses represent 40 per cent of the total number of colonies registered in Ontario as of December 31, 2014. Although not reported to CAPA, responses from small-scale beekeeping operations will help provide further insight into Ontario's beekeeping industry.

Table 1. Number of commercial and small-scale beekeepers, by region, responding to the 2015 Ontario Apiculture Winter Loss and Management Survey.

Commercial Beekeepers1

Region
# of Respondents
% of Respondents
Central
37
34.3
East
22
20.4
North
3
2.8
South
36
33.3
Southwest
11
10.2
Total
109
100

Small-scale Beekeepers2

Region
# of Respondents
% of Respondents
Central
21
21.9
East
21
21.9
North
11
11.5
South
35
36.5
Southwest
8
8.3
Total
96
100

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014

Results

The information in this report is a summary of the responses gathered from beekeepers who responded to the winter loss and management survey. A more in-depth analysis of the survey responses is underway.

Honey Bee Colony Winter Loss

Ontario commercial beekeepers reported an approximate 38 per cent overall honey bee colony loss during the 2014-2015 winter (Table 2).

The provincial overall winter loss is calculated by dividing the total number of reported dead and non-viable colonies as of May 15th by the total number of reported colonies that were alive at the start of winter. A dead colony is defined as a colony that is no longer commercially viable. The definition of a "commercially viable" was harmonized by CAPA this year, to ensure all provinces report in the same manner. As described by CAPA, a commercially viable colony, in a standard 10-frame hive, is defined has having 4 frames or more being 75% bee-covered on both sides. Ontario has used the CAPA definition since 2010.

Table 2. The number of full sized honey bee colonies put into winter in the fall of 2014, the number of viable over-wintered colonies and the number of non-viable colonies as of May 15th, 2015 based on beekeeper responses to the 2015 Ontario Apiculture Winter Loss and Management Survey.

Beekeeper Type
Full sized colonies wintered in Fall 2014
Viable over-wintered colonies as of May 15th, 2015
Non-viable colonies as of May 15th, 2015
Winter Loss (%)
Commercial1
38,667
24,041
14,626
38
Small-scale2
1,720
1,079
641
37

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014

The 38 per cent overall winter loss approximated by the Apiary Program is substantially less than the estimated 58 per cent overall winter loss reported in 2014. Although this decrease in winter loss is positive for the health of the beekeeping industry, it is still more than double what is considered to be sustainable by apiculturists. In Canada, 15 per cent is the maximum level of overwinter losses considered to be acceptable and sustainable by apiculturists (Furgala and McCutcheon, 1992; CAPA, 2007 to 2014).

The beekeeping industry has been divided into five distinct regions by provincial county based on geography, climate and weather patterns (Fig. 1).

Image of Ontario divided into the beekeeping regions

Figure 1. Beekeeping regions of Ontario: North (green), East (red), Central (yellow), South (blue) and Southwest (orange)

North: Manitoulin, Parry Sound, Nipissing, Sudbury, Algoma, Temiskaming, Cochrane, Thunder Bay, Rainy River, and Kenora counties.
East: Hastings, Renfrew, Lennox & Addington, Prince Edward, Frontenac, Leeds & Grenville, Lanark, Ottawa, Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry, and Prescott & Russell counties.
Central: Muskoka, Bruce, Grey, Simcoe, Peel, York, Toronto, Durham, Dufferin, Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton, Peterborough, and Northumberland counties.
South: Wellington, Huron, Perth, Oxford, Norfolk, Brant, Waterloo, Hamilton, Halton, Haldimand, and Niagara counties.
Southwest: Middlesex, Elgin, Lambton, Chatham-Kent, and Essex counties.


The survey was sent to beekeepers across the province and respondents represented all beekeeping regions. Some beekeeping regions have greater beekeeping activity than others as shown when comparing the number of beekeepers in the northern versus the southern part of the province. The majority of survey respondents, for both commercial and small-scale beekeepers, were from the central and south beekeeping region as these areas have the greatest beekeeping activity. Estimated winter losses and the number of respondents varied by region (Table 3). Overall, colony losses during the 2014-2015 winter were similar for both commercial and small-scale beekeepers.

Table 3. Number of commercial and small-scale beekeeper survey respondents and the overall winter loss (per cent) for each beekeeping region in Ontario.

Commercial Beekeepers1

Beekeeping Region # of Respondents Overall Winter Loss (%)
Central
42
34.6
East
22
25.3
North
3
63.3
South
27
44.0
Southwest
11
23.0
Total3
105
37.8

Small-scale Beekeepers2

Beekeeping Region # of Respondents Overall Winter Loss (%)
Central
24
40.2
East
19
34.1
North
11
32.3
South
32
39.9
Southwest
8
32.7
Total3
94
37.3

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014
3Six beekeepers (4 commercial and 2 small-scale) were not included in this table as county information was not provided.

When beekeepers were grouped by operation size (number of colonies managed) the honey bee colony loss during the 2014-2015 winter did not differ for most groups (Table 4). Beekeepers operating 201 to 1000 colonies reported fewer honey bee colony losses than other beekeepers. The response rate from beekeepers managing 201 to 500 and 501 to 1000 colonies is relatively low compared to the number of respondents for the 10 to 49 and 50 to 200 categories.

Table 4. Over winter honey bee colony losses during the winter of 2014-2015 by size of beekeeping operation (number of colonies operated).

# of Respondents # of Colonies Reported in the Fall of 2014 Average Winter Loss (%)
35
<101
37.5
59
10-491
38.3
67
50-2002
41.6
24
201-5002
27.4
8
501-10002
25.0
6
>10002
37.6

1Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014
2Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014

Beekeepers were asked to report on what they believed were the main attributing factors for colony loss during the winter of 2014-2015. These opinions may have been based on symptoms, beekeeper experience and judgment, or speculation. Starvation and weak colonies in the fall were the most commonly reported factors influencing winter losses by both commercial and small-scale beekeepers (Table 5).

Table 5. The number of commercial and small-scale beekeepers reporting contributing factors to honey bee colony losses during the winter of 2014-2015.

Suspected Cause of Colony Loss # of Commercial1 Beekeepers Reporting # of Small-scale2 Beekeepers Reporting
Starvation
46
33
Poor queens
36
19
Acute pesticide damage
15
6
Chronic pesticide damage
21
8
Ineffective Varroa control
15
8
Nosema
18
12
Weak colonies in the fall
37
35
Other
25
22
Don't know
26
25

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014

Management Practices for Pests and Diseases

There are many competing theories to explain the increase in honey bee colony mortality in recent years and a number of factors that contribute to colony health. Colonies may be weakened or killed by pests and/or diseases, such as infestation by varroa mites. Management practices, such as small cluster size and inadequate food stores may contribute to winter losses. Additionally, there are environmental stressors such as severe weather, habitat loss and chronic exposure to pesticides which may also contribute to a reduction in colony health.

While some factors contributing to colony mortality, such as severe weather, are not within the control of the beekeeper, monitoring for and the treatment of pests and diseases can be managed. For this reason, the 2015 winter loss survey focused on the surveillance, management and monitoring of three major threats to colony health: varroa, nosema and American foulbrood.

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor)

Varroa mites are relatively large external parasites that feed on the body fluids of adult and developing honey bees. Varroa mites cause physical damage, weaken bees and transmit a variety of pathogens, particularly viruses. In almost all cases, when varroa infestations are not effectively managed, the death of the honey bee colony will follow. Beekeepers were asked how they monitored for varroa infestations and which treatments were used at the beginning (spring) and the end (fall) of the 2014 beekeeping season (Table 6).

Table 6. Treatments reported by commercial and small-scale beekeepers used to control varroa mites in the spring and fall of 2014.

Spring 2014

Varroa Treatment
Commercial Beekeepers1
Small-scale Beekeepers2
Apistan® (fluvalinate)
8
6
CheckMite+™ (coumaphos)
0
3
Apivar® (amitraz)
26
6
Thymovar (thymol)
1
4
65% formic acid (40 ml multiple application)
33
16
65% formic acid (250 ml single application)
11
12
Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid)
17
19
Oxalic acid
5
7
Other
9
7
None
21
12

Fall 2014

Varroa Treatment
Commercial Beekeepers1
Small-scale Beekeepers2
Apistan® (fluvalinate)
12
10
CheckMite+™ (coumaphos)
1
2
Apivar® (amitraz)
48
18
Thymovar (thymol)
4
4
65% formic acid (40 ml multiple application)
25
15
65% formic acid (250 ml single application)
8
11
Mite Away Quick Strips (formic acid)
17
17
Oxalic acid
30
10
Other
9
6
None
3
13

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014

Ontario beekeepers use a variety of options to manage varroa mites. In spring and fall 2014, the two most common methods of varroa mite treatment reported by commercial beekeepers were Apivar® and 65% liquid formic acid (40 ml multiple application). To date, there have been no documented cases of Apivar®-resistant varroa mites in Ontario.

The two least commonly used treatments by both commercial and small-scale beekeepers were Checkmite+™ and Thymovar. To slow the development of resistance to chemical treatments, Canadian beekeepers are advised to rotate varroa mite treatments as part of an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy.

Nosema sp.

Nosema (N. ceranae and N. apis) is a fungal pathogen that infects the digestive system of honey bees. Nosema may be an added stress to honey bee colonies, depending on the time of year. To date, a relationship between nosema infection and colony loss during the winter months has not been identified (Guzman et al. 2010).

The majority of Ontario beekeepers did not treat for nosema during 2014 (Table 7). Sixty eight per cent of survey respondents indicated that nosema treatment was not applied in the spring and 60 per cent of respondents did not treat for the disease in the fall of 2014.

Table 7. Treatments reported by commercial and small-scale beekeepers used to control nosema in the spring and fall of 2014.

Spring 2014

Nosema Treatment
Commercial Beekeepers1
Small-scale Beekeepers2
Fumagillin
24
20
Other
1
3
None
75
64

Fall 2014

Nosema Treatment
Commercial Beekeepers1
Small-scale Beekeepers2
Fumagillin
32
30
Other
2
6
None
70
52

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014

American Foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae)

American foulbrood (AFB) is caused by Paenibacillus, which is visible only under a high power microscope. Honey bee larvae can become infected by ingesting Paenibacillus spores present in their food. These spores germinate in the gut of the larva, and may eventually kill the infected larvae.

The majority of Ontario beekeepers treated for AFB during 2014 and the most common treatment reported was oxytetracycline (Table 8). Sixty two per cent of commercial survey respondents and 50 per cent of small-scale beekeeping respondents indicated that oxytetracycline was the most frequently used treatment for AFB. Although oxytetracycline-resistant AFB has been detected in other jurisdictions such as the USA, there have not been any documented cases of resistant forms in Ontario.

Table 8. Treatments reported by commercial and small-scale beekeepers used to control American foulbrood in the spring and fall of 2014.

Spring 2014

American Foulbrood Treatment
Commercial Beekeepers1
Small-scale Beekeepers2
Oxytetracycline
68
48
Tylosin
1
0
Burning of infected material
7
3
Other
6
3
None
27
37

Fall 2014

American Foulbrood Treatment
Commercial Beekeepers1
Small-scale Beekeepers2
Oxytetracycline
67
45
Tylosin
1
0
Burning of infected material
3
2
Other
3
1
None
27
40

1Commercial beekeepers reporting 50 or greater colonies in the fall of 2014
2Small-scale beekeepers reporting 49 or fewer colonies in the fall of 2014

General Comments and Discussion

The Ontario Apiculture Winter Loss and Management Survey is a valuable tool for gathering information on colony mortality, the type of management practices utilized and the concerns of Ontario beekeepers. This survey alone cannot paint a complete picture of honey bee health. For a comprehensive understanding of the state of honey bee health in Ontario, the results of this survey must be evaluated with data gathered in the field, mid-season inspection reports, and research and monitoring projects.

During the 2013-2014 winter, Ontario beekeepers reported the highest ever honey bee colony winter loss. This season, the honey bee colony loss was 20 per cent less in comparison. Although this is good news for the industry, it is still more than double what is considered sustainable by apiculturists. In Canada, 15 per cent is the maximum level of overwinter losses considered to be acceptable and sustainable by apiculturists (Furgala and McCutcheon, 1992; CAPA, 2007 to 2014).

The trend of increased honey bee colony losses in recent years is especially concerning as the demand for Ontario honey bee pollination services are increasing. When high colony loss result in the inability to meet the demand for pollination services, this impacts business profits for both beekeepers and the agricultural sectors relying on honey bees for pollination services.

The main stress factors influencing declines in the number of pollinators in Ontario have been identified as:

  • Extreme Weather and Climate Change,
  • Disease, Pests and Genetic Weaknesses,
  • Reduced Habitat and Poor Nutrition, and
  • Exposure to Pesticides or Agrochemicals

The strategy for improving honey bee health in Ontario requires a comprehensive approach that addresses all of the above stress factors and includes the continued implementation of integrated pest management practices by beekeepers and crop growers, an increase in pollinator-friendly forage areas, additional research on honey bee health, and consistent documentation of bee incidents from the field. As the development of Ontario's Pollinator Health Action Plan moves forward, there will be a focus on the improved understanding of the main stressors influencing pollinator health and efforts to continue working collaboratively towards the long-term protection of honey bee health.

References

Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) Statement on honey bee losses in Canada. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. www.capabees.com

Currie R., Guzman E. and Pernal, S. 2010. Honey bee colony losses in Canada. Journal of Apicultural Research. 49 (1): 104-106.

Furgala B. and McCutcheon, D.M. 1992. Wintering productive colonies. In Graham J M (Ed). The hive and the honey bee (revised edition). Dadant and Sons; Hamilton, IL, USA pp. 829-868.

Guzman-Novoa, E., Eccles L., Calvete, Y., McGowan, J., Kelly, P. and Correa-Benitez, A. 2010. Varroa destructor is the main culprit for death and reduced populations of overwintered honey bees in Ontario, Canada. Apidologie. 4 (4) 443-451.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: Wael Haddad - ASR/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 13 October 2015
Last Reviewed: 21 October 2015