Where's the Bees?!


     Where's the bees?  There are no honey bees for sale in our area of the world right now and have not been for some time.  Packages and nucs were sold out long before they were available and a result is the prices have risen considerably much like the real estate prices here.  

     In our area of the world, which is the city of Vancouver (nestled in the Fraser Valley - approximately 120 km by 50 km and 3 million people) over 90% of honey bees are employed in primarily commercial blueberry  pollination. Why the shortage of honey bees?  It would be either an increase in agricultural need or shortage of bee population.  Every year we lose agricultural acreage to urban development so an increased need should not be the cause.  We might deduce a heavy winter loss and/or more likely covid-19 distribution challenges. 

     We have for several decades been completely dependent on nations to the south for our bee supply.  Every spring we import thousands of packages of bees from the southern hemisphere  for commercial pollination and backyard use (Importing Queens and Packaged Bees to B.C.).  We have a real lack of local nuc and package production (including overwintered nucsbanked queens and domestic queen production) and little has been done to improve this situation for decades despite our awareness that our major beekeeping problems are imported (Varroa, AFB ...). We seem content with the economic equation of package importation and an American boycott.  Prior to the 1987 Canadian government blockade of U.S. bees we imported our bees from the southern U.S. (323,000 packages in 1984). 

     We need a concerted effort by our government and the beekeeping industry to support and develop local nuc and package production as suggested by Punnett, Mitchell and Winston in the 1980's (Package and Nucleus production, Feasibility of Package Honey Bee Production, Timing of Package Honey Bee Production and the use of 2 Queen Management).  The studies suggest that it could be an economically viable industry and in the 30 years since advances have been made on the science of overwintering queens and bees. I think it's also important to control the genetic nature of your bee population with the development of optimum localized, hygienic stock.  This could be a long term 20+ year project with government financial incentives (including tax) like the BC Bee program and sponsorship in coordination with the beekeeping industry and university efforts with the clear objective of self sufficiency. Perhaps a government funded beekeeping centre in the Fraser Valley completely dedicated to the raising of bee colonies and queens.  I think it should be part of our collective food sovereignty philosophy.  Then maybe we won't have to ask, "Where's the Bees?!