THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE AND FORESTRY
OTTAWA, Tuesday, February 11, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5 p.m. to study the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
We welcome our guests, who will be introduced shortly.
My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick and chair of the committee. I would ask all senators to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Mercer: Terry Mercer, Nova Scotia.
Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant, Saskatchewan.
Senator Dagenais: Jean-Guy Dagenais, Quebec.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
Senator Demers: Jacques Demers, Quebec.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
The Chair: Honourable senators and witnesses, the committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. Our order of reference states:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. In particular, the committee shall be authorized to examine this topic within the context of:
(a) the importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production and honey production in Canada;
(b) the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honey bees in Canada;
(c) the factors affecting honey bee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally;
(d) strategies for governments, producers and the industry to ensure bee health.
Honourable senators, our witnesses this evening are Kevin Nixon, Alberta Delegate to the Canadian Honey Council, Alberta Beekeepers Commission; Jake Berg, President, Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association; and Allan Campbell, President, Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association. Thank you for accepting our invitation to be here today to share your views, comments and recommendations for this order of reference from the Senate of Canada.
I have been informed by the clerk that the first presenter will be Manitoba, followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta. Mr. Campbell, please proceed with your presentation.
Allan Campbell, President, Manitoba Beekeepers' Association: Good evening, honourable senators, and thank you for the invitation to present to you my witness testimony. I would like to thank the Canadian government for sharing our concern for the honeybee industry and all of us involved in pollinating Canada's crops and producing some of the finest honey in the world.
When I say that I represent the Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association, I mean that I'm speaking on behalf of roughly 531 hard-working entrepreneurs looking after 73,000 honeybee colonies. These colonies are being managed almost exclusively for honey production. Our province provides a great opportunity for large honey crops from over 3 million acres of canola being seeded here. However, there is essentially no opportunity to generate income from pollination fees in my province.
Before we started the cycle of high winter loss, we managed 85,000 colonies. Now, we can barely keep our number at 73,000 despite an increase in honey prices, which in a healthy industry would drive colony numbers up. For the economics majors in the room, since 2006 canola acres in the province have increased 44 per cent and the bulk price of honey more than doubled from about 90 cents per pound to over $2 per pound. Yet colony numbers are down 15 per cent and we have lost nearly 100 beekeepers, down from 632. In that same date range, Canada's honey exports are down 7.4 per cent, and the value of bee imports into Canada has increased from $2 million annually to nearly $7 million.
In the mid-1980s, prior to the Canadian border being closed to U.S. package bees, Manitoba boasted 110,000 colonies and was a major contributor to Canada being a top-10 honey producer in the world. Sadly, by 2007 we had dropped off that list of top-10 producers and have never regained that ground. Clearly there is a need for replacement bees from outside our current sources. This last winter, we lost 46 per cent of our bees. We are in dire need in Manitoba, and we asked the government for an immediate end to the embargo on U.S. package bees. We are asking to be allowed to give the American package bee industry the chance to be measured against a health standard equal to the health level of the Canadian bee industry.
The CFIA has protocols in place that allow queens in from the U.S, and that could be followed for package bees as well. The MBA has developed, with our provincial apiarist and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, a white paper document that makes suggestions for health protocols that would mitigate all health risks down to negligible. I have included copies for further study.
The beekeepers in Manitoba have clearly come to the conclusion that the risks we face today are far greater than any risk posed by importing bees that are held to our high standard. In Canada, we simply do not have the climate to produce enough new bees early enough in the year. Replacement hives are needed in April to give them time to grow strong for our nectar flow. There is no doubt that Canadian bee breeders are doing a fine job of raising excellent stock for queen bees and nucleus colonies but, sadly, we don't have the same warm winters that breeders in California or Georgia or Hawaii have.
You have heard testimony already that some provinces could gear up production to supply many thousands of nuc colonies or 100,000 Canadian queens. The numbers that they say they can provide are still only half of what we are importing today. Even the beekeepers who are valiantly trying to supply Canadians with nucs and queens are losing record numbers of bees. When they can supply only half of the demand and are at risk of major losses, what happens to the rest of the industry if they have a catastrophic loss? It puts the whole supply chain at risk.
Also, it is of little comfort when they cannot be supplied at a time of year to do us much good. You can buy nucs in the summer and overwinter them to produce a crop the next year, they'll tell you, but does it really seem feasible to pay in June for colonies that you almost certainly lose 30 per cent of in January to hope to start to turn a profit in July of the following year?
Now let us take a moment to look at the health risks involved in our current practices. Bacterial and fungal disease, varroa mite and beekeeper-applied acaricides are among the biggest health risks we face today. By culling out the 30 per cent of beehives that we are losing every year anyway and not putting the resources and money into unsuccessfully wintering those, we can start to use early packages as an integrated approach to pest management.
For example, in agriculture it's widely accepted that it is unsustainable to seed the same crop year after year in the same field, using the same chemicals year after year. In addition to cropping rotation, farmers are able to give the land a break from use, and our cold Canadian winters freeze out many pests.
Canadian beekeepers do not currently have that choice. We are expected to maintain our numbers by keeping these beehives fully stocked year round, without a chance to place the equipment into cold storage, thereby breaking the pest cycle. With these hives in use by bees 365 days a year, they are also housing Nosema spores, small hive beetle and varroa mites year round.
How do you keep bees while killing mites? The current practice is through ever-increasing use of chemical miticides applied multiple times per year to bees on combs which are now polluted with pesticide. If, instead, we were bringing in package bees that were treated for mites chemically before they were in our equipment, we would cut chemical residues from our hives, at the same time eliminating the risk of our miticide acting in synergy with neonicotinoids and other ag pesticides and overdosing our bees.
Once you consider that these bees are starting in our hives with negligible mite levels, these hives would not likely require a miticide application until the following year, saving an entire year's worth of pesticides and leaving dollars in the beekeepers' pockets. As well, treatment for Nosema and foulbrood disease would be unnecessary.
Good, clean brood comb that is free of contaminants and pesticides is the second most important asset that a beekeeper has, next to his bees. But with our current unsustainable practices, we can't have both. We must get off the chemical treadmill. I have brought you further research that demonstrates a clear model of how you can keep bees healthy and treatment free using package bees.
How does CFIA stand behind their most recent risk assessment of U.S. packages and claim that it is in the interest of Canadian bee health? The border was closed to keep out tracheal mites and again upheld in the face of varroa mites entering in the U.S. In the years since the embargo, Canada has still been vulnerable to tracheal mites, then varroa mites. Our mite populations also built resistance to the same chemicals as in the U.S. Treatment-resistant AFB is now endemic in parts of Canada. Small hive beetle is also now entering Canada.
How can this be? Our border is closed. The reason that a closed border never works is that there is no geographical or physical barrier. We may be closing the door to beekeepers, but not to bees and pests that have wings, or to disease that can be spread in the air or on wing.
In North Dakota there are hundreds of thousands of bee colonies moved into the state by beekeepers from all over the U.S. They are there to build colonies and give them a break from the rigours of pollination and gain nutrition from abundant honey crops.
That is hundreds of thousands of hives that are right up against our border, as shown on this map that I've provided, with some locations that may even be chosen because the U.S. beekeeper can see that even Manitoba canola fields are within foraging distance for his bees.
In closing, honourable senators, I would ask that you consider my testimony on behalf of all beekeepers in Manitoba and those who share our feelings across Canada, and do your part to help us break this cycle and emerge a healthier, wealthier and wiser industry.
The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Campbell.
Now we will hear from Jake Berg, President of Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association.
Jake Berg, President, Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association: I am here to represent Saskatchewan's view on bee health. I would like to thank the chair and honourable senators for the invitation to address this committee on honeybee health issues in Canada.
This is a very important issue to beekeepers and many other agricultural industries. Bee health is critical to the survival of beekeepers, and much of agriculture is dependent on the extra value created by pollination as provided by bees.
Saskatchewan is supportive of ensuring the sustainability of the industry. We have several young beekeepers in Saskatchewan who are interested in keeping bees for the long term and intend to raise their families using the income from keeping bees.
While there are numerous potential problems faced by honeybees, two are developing into the most important issues: disease control and pesticide poisoning. Both cause large risks to honeybees, beekeepers and the rest of agriculture.
The largest threat to beekeeping in Saskatchewan is honeybee diseases. Most of the large mortalities seen in the province can be traced back to disease problems that have gotten out of control.
The primary culprit affecting beekeepers is the varroa mite. This mite is a continuous problem that we have difficulty dealing with. Varroa have developed resistance to two of the best three control options we have of synthetic mite-control products. There is resistance to Apistan and CheckMite+. Only Apivar is still working for us. We are in desperate need to protect this control option by not importing mites that are resistant to Apivar, or amitraz, by obtaining more options for control so we can practise a rotation to reduce resistance buildup.
Numerous places around the world have bees available for purchase, but we must be careful not to import new problems to Canada and further threaten beekeeping in Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been good in terms of objectively evaluating sources of bees for threats to the Canadian beekeeping industry.
Most beekeepers realize that pesticides are an important tool to ensure profitability in agriculture. Just as beekeepers must use products to control varroa, farmers must be able to control the pests in their fields. While neonicotinoids so far do not appear to have caused a problem in Saskatchewan, we realize that other areas with more corn and agriculture have reported problems.
In Saskatchewan we see problems with foliar-sprayed insecticides, primarily organophosphates and carbamates. Pesticide damage to bees occurs with increased spraying for crop pests.
In 2012, beekeepers in Saskatchewan experienced higher than normal damages associated with Bertha Armyworm control on canola. As a response, the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association, in cooperation with the Saskatchewan Aerial Applicators Association, Saskatchewan Agriculture, crop-protection companies such as Bayer CropScience and Dow AgroSciences worked collaboratively to develop a communication tool between beekeepers and pesticide applicators.
We are anticipating having DriftWatch ready for use for the 2014 field season. This will help to identify areas that need special care to avoid bee damage, and eventually other sensitive crops. The development of this project in Saskatchewan has been followed by other provinces, and the Canadian Honey Council is currently looking into following this collaborative approach for the rest of Canada. We do not expect that implementing this program will resolve all the pesticide incidences, but we hope it is a step in the right direction.
Beekeeping is an important part of the agriculture system. Not only do bees produce honey, but they are responsible for a great value to many other agriculture producers from pollination. A collaborative approach with all players to deal with bee health is important because everyone has a stake in the value of honeybees.
The Chair: Thank you.
Now we will hear from Mr. Kevin Nixon, who is Alberta Delegate to the Canada Honey Council.
Kevin Nixon, Alberta Delegate to Canadian Honey Council, Alberta Beekeepers Commission: Thank you, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee, for this opportunity to brief you today. I have been sitting on the board of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission for many years, and I'm currently on my second term with the Canadian Honey Council as well.
Alberta currently has approximately 280,000 hives in the province and about 90 per cent of those hives are run by commercial beekeepers, people who make their living strictly from keeping those bees. There are about 120 commercial beekeepers in Alberta running a very large number of bees.
I'll try to cover the main topic areas and I believe you all have outlines of the briefing with you.
You had the pleasure of having Dr. Medhat Nasr with you last week, who is our provincial apiculturist, so some of this may be repetitive, but the needs and demands for bees are steadily increasing. Annually, about 75,000 hives are rented out to large seed producers in Alberta to produce hybrid canola seed. The seed harvested from this crop is used the following year to plant commercial canola all across Canada.
A large number of beehives also from Alberta, mainly from the Peace region, are moved to British Columbia to improve their odds for winter survival. When they are out there, they are often rented for pollination services as well for blueberries, apples, pears and other fruits and vegetable production.
Nationally, there are a lot of challenges but there are also opportunities, and some of these opportunities seem to be coming in the very near future. There is research under way looking at advantages of having honeybees present on commercial canola. This is a crop that does not traditionally require pollination, but there seems to be an indication that there may be a yield increase by having bees present. Once this research is done and is able to show this is the case, the opportunities for beekeepers, especially on the Prairies, could be tremendous.
The second opportunity is the increase of blueberry production taking place on both the East and West Coasts. We have recently heard of large amounts of land in the Maritimes specifically being placed into blueberry production. This is a crop that requires honeybees for pollination. Our industry is hearing that there is a need for 70,000 additional beehives in the next five to ten years, and this may be a conservative number. How do we as an industry meet this demand?
As there was an updated risk assessment last November on accessing bees from the U.S., I've included the response from the Alberta Beekeepers along with this briefing. We believe there are many holes in the document, and that with clearly written protocols, bulk bees from the U.S. could provide Canadian beekeepers with an attractive option for bee replacement. Currently, we have been getting bees from New Zealand and Australia, and you can have too many eggs in one basket. Accessing bees from the U.S. may not be a fix, but it may create another option for beekeepers. We heard from Mr. Campbell from Manitoba who had a fairly extensive in-depth look at the benefits it may give the industry.
The current state of honeybees: Last year was a rough year almost everywhere in the country, as a matter of fact. The challenges seem to be mostly weather-related. Overall, the provinces did not recover the numbers of hives registered with Alberta Agriculture.
I do need to make a correction here from the briefing. At the time I wrote this I had old information. I did talk to Dr. Nasr and he presented the updated information to you. We did achieve that 280,000 hive level again, so my number here is showing incorrectly. Sorry about that.
In 2013, honey production was still down roughly 30 per cent across the province. Even though those hives recovered with that loss of 30 per cent, which was the average winter loss in the province, when we have to recover those numbers, you sacrifice on your production side. If we have to make splits or nucs, we're stealing bees from a mother hive and transferring them into equipment. We buy queens and place a queen with those bees, so we are weakening one hive to start another. There is a sacrifice. You are sacrificing some production. We are running a business and we have to make sure we can justify what we are doing and that it's manageable. In this case, having access to package bees may decrease that need for weakening one to recover.
Factors affecting bee health: In Alberta we do not seem to have many agro pesticide incidents. There have been a couple of isolated incidents, but our communication and education program, with aerial applicators specifically, seems to have been effective. We do not see the neonicotinoid incidents other regions have seen even though the same products are being used on canola, potatoes and corn in Alberta.
Our biggest health issues at this time seem to be the varroa mite and the viruses it can transmit, and a parasitic infection called Nosema. These have been long-term issues and continue to be. It seems we get a product in use for varroa for five to seven years and then the mite develops resistance. Unlike other sectors, the beekeepers don't have a shelf with future products sitting there waiting for us. We could have and should have a practical IPM rotation of miticides, but through lack of leadership have failed to do so. There is some great hope for the possible use of RNAi technology coming, but it will require some serious investment and research.
Another important factor is bee nutrition. Agriculture has changed across the country in plants as well as management practices. Due to this, many previous sources of pollinator habitat have been removed or killed off. Farmers grow right to the edge of fields and are taking out rows of hedges and wind breaks to increase production. How much land out there is owned by the Crown and how much is managed by municipalities and industrial companies? If all that land had alfalfa, sweet clover, alsike clover, Dutch clover and other plants of this type, it could go a long way in providing a multi-floral diet rather than mono-floral diet. When we are all well-nourished, we are healthier. It's the same for the bees.
Strategies for stakeholders to ensure bee health in the future: Producers need to continue being educated on identification and surveillance procedures for all pests and diseases, adoption of biosecurity measures to help identify areas of risks, and we as producers need to support research. In Alberta, Dr. Nasr has done a really good job of working with our industry in surveillance and extension programs, and there has been a significant, noticeable betterment to the industry for that.
As an industry, over the past couple of years relationships between producers and the ag industry as a whole have improved. We have worked with CropLife Canada as well as some of their member organizations in many aspects. This must continue.
We also need to continue dialogue with the PMRA and educate the powers that be on how pesticides may cause risks to pollinators. We know insecticides will kill insects, but it is the risk of exposure. We need to talk between industries to make sure there are no gaps as to how that exposure can take place.
The industry must also work with government at all levels to encourage pollinator habitat, reduce roadside spraying and mowing, plant more bee-friendly plants on public lands and reserve areas, perhaps working with the oil and gas sector to do the same in land reclamations and that type of situation.
The industry needs support from government in research and developing new and novel treatments specifically for varroa and Nosema control. We need the government, CFIA, to realize regions within Canada are different and regions within Canada to access package bees specifically from the U.S. so we have replacement stock to rebuild our beehives. Of course, this would be under protocols to ensure we are importing healthy bees. We need continued support from PMRA to ensure current and new agro pesticides registered for use are safe for honeybees and have proper application procedures. Also with regard to the PMRA, we need to expedite the registration process once a new product for hive treatment becomes available so the producers can access it in a timely manner.
Finally, support the industry by coming up with some sort of strategy to encourage landowners, farmers, provincial and municipal governments to seed pollinator-friendly habitat.
Thank you, chair.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Nixon.
Senator Mercer: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here. It has been very informative. As we go along, we continue to learn more and more about bees, and we also continue to hear how serious the problem is coast to coast.
Mr. Nixon, in your presentation, you said we could have and should have a practical IPM rotation of miticides but, through lack of leadership, have failed to do so. Lack of leadership by whom?
Mr. Nixon: I think we're all accountable to some extent. There was a lack on our part as producers to push for this, possibly to support it in some way or another. I think there is also some onus on our scientists within Canada, the bee experts we are working with. This varroa problem has been ongoing since its arrival. We have developed resistance from two other products in the last 12 years, and we are currently using another one. It seems like we use it until it runs out and then we sit there with our arms up, “What's next?” Then we are in a panic finding another product and getting emergency use registration. Amitraz showed up. By the time it finally got emergency use registration, it was October. The damage is done. Ideally, treatments need to be in earlier than that.
We can use some soft chemicals: formic acid, oxalic acid, along with these other harder chemicals. We could develop some sort of rotation. There are not a whole lot of other chemicals out there, but there are a few out there that we should try and access.
We need to keep looking. RNAi does look very hopeful for the future, but we're still a few years away from seeing it.
Senator Mercer: We have heard from beekeepers in Atlantic Canada about how helpful it would be if the border were open so they could winter their bees in the United States. For example, my province is a big blueberry producer, and we could have our hives taken to Florida for the winter, working down there obviously. Then, perhaps as the weather warmed up, they could be moving up and giving a second source of income to beekeepers. Mind you, there is obviously a cost to that kind of industry. Has there been talk in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta about that? If the borders were open, you could winter your hives south of the border.
That is for any one of you. It wasn't directed to just Mr. Nixon.
Mr. Campbell: I can try to address that. I know that we're actually dealing with two separate issues when we talk about bees coming in from the United States and the border being open to the movement of beehives.
The embargo I referred to on bees was created in 1986 or 1987. When you are talking about bees moving within the hive, back and forth across the border, that has been illegal since 1927, I believe. That was to stop the spread of American foulbrood, which is a disease spread “on comb.” In Manitoba, at least, that's where we believe more risk lies, with chemicals and diseases being spread within the hive on the comb.
Senator Mercer: But the Americans do move their bees around themselves, from north to south. Bees active in Maine would be active in Florida in the wintertime, as bees in Washington State would be active in California.
Mr. Campbell: That's true.
Mr. Nixon: We have talked about this at many tables in Alberta. Alberta's perspective is that we are not in favour of seeing bee movement on comb. It does open up a whole new can of worms. When bees are contained in a package bee situation, they are being shipped in a 12 inch by 10 inch by 6 inch wide carton. There are two or three pounds of bees in there. That is an ideal place to treat bees for any pest or disease. The varroa mite likes to reproduce in capped brood at the larva pupa stage in the comb. When you put the bees in a package, there is no comb, no wax, no larva and no brood — just bees. You are able to hit anything that's exposed, and everything is exposed in a package. When you start talking about movement of hives, that changes the whole risk level.
Also, being in the lovely Canadian climate we are I think is actually a blessing. Winter is a great break for the bees. The hive shuts down. It goes broodless. You are able to use treatments effectively. In the U.S., when its year-round beekeeping, those bees get moved around on a truck an awful lot, and there is no break for those bees. To keep bees healthy, winter is not a bad thing.
Mr. Berg: We have talked a lot in Saskatchewan about why we would like to have the border stay closed. We do worry a lot about the U.S.'s constant bee culture where they do work their bees year round. Those diseases build up year after year and they're unable to control them down there. We feel that the bee health in Canada is a lot higher than the bee health level in the U.S. If the border was open, even to packages, we'd be susceptible to a lower standard of bee health just by bringing those packages in.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here. I'm from Manitoba, so I'm glad to see the West essentially, the Prairies, being represented.
Senator Mercer asked about the issue in terms of imports. He also mentioned — and Mr. Nixon, you commented on it — an IPM program, an integrated pest management program. It's concerned me as I have heard from witnesses that these miticides get registered and then they develop resistance. The move is on then to find a replacement. It makes sense that clearly we should be looking for replacements, for an integrated plan. Who should be responsible for developing an integrated pest management plan?
Mr. Nixon: Are you asking me?
Senator Buth: Each of you. I'm curious.
Mr. Nixon: I'll try to provide a bit of an answer.
We, as industry, need to embrace taking that step. I think the best way I can see it coming is from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists. You heard from Dr. Nasr last week, who represented that organization. Essentially, all provincial apiculturists are part of that organization, and they are what academia draws upon. They are the experts in the country on bees. From there, it should come down to producers as to what a program should and would look like.
Senator Buth: My background is agriculture, so I have been involved in some of the programs like the minor use program that we have had in the crops area. Do you know if that minor use program has been available for bee products? You are not a large enough industry to attract the dollars, so I'm wondering how you get industry involved in providing solutions for you.
Mr. Campbell: That is a tough question.
Senator Buth: I know it's a tough question.
Mr. Berg: We are a small industry.
Mr. Nixon: If I could, I brought a very good resource with me. Our chairman of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission, Grant Hicks, is here, and he has some experience with that. Maybe he could answer that for you.
The Chair: Absolutely. Would you come to the table, please?
Mr. President, would you please answer the question?
Grant Hicks, President, Alberta Beekeepers Commission: I will do my best. I was involved when CheckMite+ — coumaphos — was registered and our minor use specialist with Alberta Agriculture did much of the legwork in conjunction with the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists. We are aware that the minor use avenue is probably the area that we need to follow.
To add to that, to use one miticide endlessly until it develops resistance is not a professional way of approaching this problem. As Kevin suggested, there are several other products that could be used, and their efficacy is in the 95 per cent range, which is what we need. We need to implement. That's where we run out of expertise; how does that rotational process work? With a product that's fully registered, how do you get that chemical company to say, “We are not going to sell that for two or three years”? Those are the kinds of issues that probably are beyond our scope as farm boys.
Senator Buth: Mr. Campbell, Mr. Berg, did you want to comment on this? Who is responsible for an IPM program, and how do we make sure we have the best plan in place?
Mr. Campbell: I think we all need to take responsibility for our own IPM programs. When it comes right down to it, no other professional can tell you, without coming and visiting your farm, of course, and looking inside your hives, what's going on in your hives and what the best choice is for you. When it comes to soft chemicals like formic acid and oxalic acid, they can be very weather dependent; if you don't have the right temperature range, that's probably the biggest part. You can have a lot poorer results from that.
That is definitely going to come into play as well, or how much brood is in the hive at the time, those sorts of things.
Mr. Berg: I believe we all are responsible for implementing an IPM program. More research needs to be done to help register these other types of miticides that are available. The more research dollars we can put into research, the quicker we can hopefully get some of those other chemicals or products available in Canada.
Senator Buth: I have a whole set of questions in terms of funding and research. I'll leave those to the second round. Could I just get one question in for Mr. Campbell?
The Chair: Absolutely, Senator Buth.
Senator Buth: Mr. Berg and Mr. Nixon commented in terms of working with industry and working together on some different programs, but I didn't see that was in your comments. Could you comment on the type of working relationships you have with other groups within Manitoba and with industry?
Mr. Campbell: We have actually a pretty good way of getting on with other groups in Manitoba. We are a member of Keystone Agricultural Producers. We believe in their work a lot. We often sit with them and work towards solutions on things. We have good relationships with the canola growers and corn growers also in Manitoba.
Senator Buth: What about aerial applicators; do you have a working relationship with them?
Mr. Campbell: Yes, we have a good working relationship with them and we are also working toward getting mapping software in place to ensure bee safety and making sure they know where those hives are.
Senator Merchant: With the research that is going on, I'm wondering how you communicate the research from the researchers to the beekeepers. I noticed in the materials that in Saskatchewan you have an equal number of hobby beekeepers. How do you communicate the information? How does everybody know the best and the latest in the research?
Mr. Campbell: In our own province, we host a field day every summer and events such as those to try to get Manitoba beekeepers together. There are also other associations in our province that are quite active. There is the Red River Apiarists' Association as well as the Brandon Area Beekeepers Association. We find there is good dissemination of information.
Senator Merchant: Do you have newsletters? Do you put out publications?
Mr. Campbell: Yes, we've got quarterly newsletters. We maintain a website at manitobabee.org. We also have a convention and symposium at the end of February.
Mr. Berg: In Saskatchewan we have a field day once every June. We have a convention in late November, early December, and an annual general meeting at the end of February. That does help quite a bit with information dissemination.
About three years ago now we started a technical adaptation team, which is a research team run by the beekeeping association. We look for grants that are available through different granting agencies in the country. Those researchers do their granting research, but also they do other beginner beekeeping courses. They did a queen rearing course last year. That helps to get out the information to the smaller hobby-type beekeeper.
Senator Merchant: I'm also trying to understand the importance of bees in the pollination of crops. We have seen in the past year or the last few years that we have bumper crops. We have also had very cold winters, which are detrimental to the survival of bees. Are there studies that can correlate the importance of bees to crop pollination?
I think, Mr. Nixon, you made a reference to a special kind of canola seed. Could you elaborate on that for us?
Mr. Nixon: Southern Alberta is where the hybrid canola seed production takes place, and they must have bees present to get a crop, for producing that specific crop. That's the parent seed, if you will, to what would be seeded the following year.
They often use a blend of leafcutters and honeybees. The two bees work at different temperatures, so it is a way of spreading out the risk a little bit, depending on what the season is like.
I'm sure there would be people smarter than me who could go further with that, but the main companies that we would work directly for are Bayer CropScience, Dow, Pioneer Dupont and Monsanto. There is also another private company out of southern Alberta that contracts acres as well.
In blueberry pollination, and maybe you've already heard testimony from blueberry producers, with the increased level of bees present they are finding an increase in yields. They have been getting crops and they have been getting good crops, but maybe there is an opportunity to be getting even better crops. That's the indication we have had commercial canola. It's very preliminary. There is definitely more work being done on it. I believe you're hearing from the canola council later.
Senator Oh: Thank you, gentlemen.
We have so many beehives so close to our border. Do Americans not have the same problems with the varroa mite that we have in Canada?
Mr. Campbell: Absolutely.
Senator Oh: How do they solve their problem, while we are having difficulty here?
Mr. Campbell: They seem to be dealing with it the same way we are. They just work hard at it. They're making their splits. They also have economic factors too, such as almond pollination, which really drives the industry and gets you back in the game if you have suffered severe losses. There is a chance to go out and buy more bees because you're making money at what you're doing.
Senator Oh: How serious is their problem compared to ours in Canada?
Mr. Campbell: It's our feeling that we are facing a lot of the exact same issues. They keep coming back every year. This year there are more hives than needed for almond pollination. Once they are done in February and those hives come out of pollination, you will see hives exploding because they're so populous. It would be a very easy time to shake packages for the Canadian market.
Mr. Berg: Yes, they have the same problems as we have here. Some of their problems are a little more advanced than ours with the varroa mite. It's our thought that they're a little bit more along the way with Apivar, or amitraz in the States. They are about four to five years farther done the road on getting resistance there. They need to treat up to four times a year but they get only 50 per cent efficacy. We use it only once a year in Saskatchewan and get about a 95 per cent kill.
Mr. Nixon: I'm going to debate a couple of things. They definitely have the same issues. We hear a lot in the media, and what do the media pick up on? A lot of worst-case scenarios. There are good stories in the States as well. There are times in the year when you could probably measure the health of our bees in Canada and they would probably be identical to the health of the bees in the U.S. We haven't done that. If you don't look, you won't find it. It's a great rule to live by. In the States, there are times in the year when those bees are probably at their highest stress point and may show some bad signs.
I know beekeepers in the States who have started wintering their bees in potato sheds in the northwest. They're breaking that brood cycle, just like our winter in Canada. They're shutting the bees down and pulling them out at the end of January. They give them a month to build up, and then they go to almonds — right now, as we speak. There are management techniques that beekeepers are learning and practising down there to have good, healthy bees.
My colleague commented on the efficacy of amitraz in the U.S. We heard a number thrown around about that efficacy rate. We actually did some calling to the U.S. and I had the privilege of being in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a few weeks ago at the American Beekeepers Conference. That number is not the true number of efficacy. They're still showing good efficacy on amitraz. It was done by the USDA Beltsville lab. They're running a national surveillance project in the U.S. called Project Apis mellifera. They're keeping an eye and monitoring disease levels. There are regions where things are iffy at times, but there are some good news stories out there as well.
Senator Tardif: I would like to come back to a point raised earlier. Mr. Campbell, you made an eloquent plea to us to ask the government for an immediate end to the embargo on U.S. package bees. Mr. Berg, you indicated that from Saskatchewan's perspective we need to be careful with the sources of bees that Canada allows for importation. Mr. Nixon, I'm not sure what Alberta's position is on the importation of bees, although you mentioned that you didn't like it when it wasn't on the comb, if that's correct. Are the conditions so different in the three Prairie provinces that you take different stands on that issue? Could you clarify that for me?
Mr. Campbell: I could start by saying that there are some pretty serious differences in geography.
Senator Tardif: Even on the Prairies?
Mr. Campbell: Even on the Prairies, yes.
In Manitoba, a lot of beekeeping takes place in the southern part of the province. As that map shows you, we are right up against the U.S. border, and those American bees are right up against the Canadian border. There is no getting away from that.
In Saskatchewan, I believe it's a completely different story as they're a lot farther away from the border; so maybe it is not an issue for them.
Senator Tardif: You would ask that U.S. bees be allowed in.
Mr. Berg, what are you saying?
Mr. Berg: We would ask that U.S. bees not be allowed in. It is true in Saskatchewan that the geography is a little different. The majority of our bees are farther north and away from the border, so we don't have the same border pressure that maybe Manitoba faces. Our worry is that if we allow those bees in, we will get amitraz-resistant varroa mites, where we don't have any of those mites in our province yet.
Mr. Nixon: Alberta supports access to U.S. package bees. We believe in science-based decisions in neonics as well as in importing stock. We believe that through good protocols, clean and healthy bees can be accessed from the U.S.
We are not asking for a wide-open border. We currently import queen stock from the U.S. These are the same producers that would supply package bees. Currently, Canada is importing around 40,000 packages a year from New Zealand and Australia. We're going halfway around the world to import a stock from a place that is in the opposite season. They shake out their boxes and send us their bees, but they are not necessarily in the greatest health when they arrive.
It is a fact that for the bees we would access in the U.S., only a handful of suppliers in northern California meet the protocol conditions to ship queens to Canada. Those are the same suppliers that would be shipping worker bees. Those bees are actually the daughters, in most cases, of the stock that they're already shipping us.
Economic issues are playing into this. We have heard since 1988 that areas of the country can supply us with queens and bees. You heard testimony last week —
Senator Tardif: From B.C. as a matter of fact.
Mr. Nixon: — that said they could gear up to meet the queen needs. It was realized that their queen production has dropped in the past six or seven years.
If a person is able to produce a good high-quality stock, the marketplace will recognize it and it will get bought. We have been importing queen stock from California and Hawaii. It is some of the best stock we've ever seen. It's wintering well, producing crops and pollinating.
The U.S. will not fix beekeeping. We will get resistance either way. With CheckMite+, the product before amitraz, we had resistance within months of when the U.S. had resistance. It doesn't buy us that much time. A closed border is really only closing opportunities for beekeepers. We have all our eggs in two baskets: Australia and New Zealand.
I noticed that there were many questions asked last week of Dr. Nasr by three senators. How did Alberta grow its industry? Amitraz was part of that. We needed varroa control. But a big driver in Alberta that helped us grow from 190,000 to 280,000 colonies was beekeepers spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — business people, farmers — on packages, on making nucs, splitting bees, investing money in their operations. That is how the industry was driven forward.
The other key driver was pollination. Pollination uses approximately 80,000 hives. What was the growth in Alberta? Ninety thousand hives. There is a strong correlation there that pollination was a driver in the industry. We see that opportunity elsewhere. How are we going to meet those needs?
Senator Tardif: Could I follow up on something you said, Mr. Nixon? You have spoken a lot about bee management practices, and very good bee management practices. Are there national standards? If not, do you feel there should be national standards? There seems to be a lot of variation from province to province. I understand that it is very different and the geography is very different from one region to the other, but how do you feel about that and how do you see that?
Mr. Nixon: I think it would be very difficult to have a national standard. The differences within our own provinces can be drastic. The overall system of managing a hive can be very similar. You come out of winter and spring, and you build up, replace and recover your numbers. You build up the hive for maximum population for either honey production or pollination. The summer is production months, and then fall is for winter preparations, where you are medicating and feeding. Those management-type systems are pretty well the same across the country and I believe are being practised across the country.
As far as treatments being used, different treatments react differently in different temperatures. Different humidity can make a difference. For example, using formic acid to control mites, humidity can play into that.
Regional factors could play a role, and so I think a national standard in that case would be difficult.
Mr. Berg: I tend to agree with Mr. Nixon that a national standard would be very hard to come to. Bees just aren't the same in Alberta as they are in Saskatchewan and Manitoba at the same time of year, or with just a little bit different managing procedures. Some of the other chemicals at the national centre may come into effect. They are totally dependent on temperature and humidity, so a national standard would be very difficult to come to.
Mr. Campbell: Oftentimes, coming from Manitoba, we will hear that other beekeepers in British Columbia, or maybe in the east, are working bees in temperatures where Manitoba's temperatures are still in the minus 30s, and these other provinces are out working already. It is very different.
One of the reasons I think Manitoba has had such a hard time rebuilding is because our season is so extremely short. Normally, on our own farm, we'd be back working with hives by April 12. This year it was May before we got a start, and even at that we were digging our way in through the snowbanks.
Senator Tardif: It gets tough on the Prairies. The weather is harsh.
Senator Dagenais: My question is for Mr. Nixon. You said that winter was a beneficial season for bee health because bees could then rest. Certain witnesses told us that it was perhaps preferable to send the bees to Florida. I will ask you the same question I asked others before you: what do you think of late or early springs? Could they negatively affect bee health?
Mr. Nixon: In some ways, I would love to go to Florida too.
Senator Dagenais: Same thing for all the snowbirds.
Mr. Nixon: I do believe that the winter gives the hive a chance to shut down. Winter can be hard on the bees; no doubt about it — indirectly, I should add. It seems that the colder the winter, the more feed is consumed, but it also depends how they were in the fall. If a hive has a high mite load in September and October and a beekeeper doesn't get his treatment in fast enough or on time, the bees that are hatching at that time could come out with deformed wings or viruses that could suppress that hive. Then the hive has a suppressed immune system for the winter months and will slowly dwindle away.
One example of how winter can be hard on them is that last year we got into our hives the first week of March in Alberta. I'm just north of Calgary. The bees looked really good; they looked really nice, 10 per cent or less dead. I thought things could be good; we'll make some extra splits, maybe increase the numbers a little bit. Over the next six weeks we lost an additional 20 per cent. The hives that were looking so nice in March kept dwindling and dwindling, just because of the weather.
Spring is vital to a beehive. We were supplement feeding them — protein patties, liquid sugar — everything we'd do any other year. But it was so cold that the bees wouldn't break the cluster to take the feed. The protein supplement stimulates the queen to lay eggs. They weren't consuming that. The queen wasn't laying eggs. The adult bees that would normally have to last four or five months to get through winter had to last six, and those extra four or six weeks made a world of difference. In that way, spring can be hard on them.
Senator Robichaud: I was reading the letter that the Alberta Beekeepers Commission sent to the CFIA about their risk analysis of importing package bees. Somehow you don't seem to agree with Mr. Berg who says he doesn't want anything to do with package bees, and you say we could make use of package bees.
What you say is that their risk analysis seems to run contrary to science about the bees. I think it's worth reading, because there are quite a few pages in there where you're not satisfied with the way they are looking at it. Have you received any answer from CFIA?
Mr. Nixon: No, we've had no response as of yet.
Senator Robichaud: When was that sent?
Mr. Nixon: I believe the comment period closed late November.
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Chair, this is something that came to us from the beekeepers. I think there is a lot of information in there that we should be concerned with, whereby they are basing their recommendation not to import package bees on information that is not scientifically correct. Am I saying it the right way?
Mr. Campbell: We agree with Alberta's position that a lot of things in the risk assessment were not at all science based. In fact, there was an entire section where they talked about assumptions they had made, and assumption has no place in science, as far as I'm concerned.
Senator Robichaud: There is also information in there about the movement across states. They were saying there was no control over the movement state to state; and you say there is, from what you know?
Mr. Campbell: Yes, there are county inspectors and also state inspection for hives going across the country. There are stations where they inspect for fire ants and you have to wash pallets in order to move hives into or out of the province. There were two or three places in the risk assessment where they seem to be saying that there was no national bee health survey and once you get about two thirds of the way through it, they themselves refer to that survey in the United States.
Senator Robichaud: There is contradiction within their own assessment?
Mr. Campbell: There is.
Senator Robichaud: Should we call them as a witness?
The Chair: Mr. Nixon, do you have any comments on the question and what was brought forward by Senator Robichaud?
Mr. Nixon: No. What Mr. Campbell said is correct. There is interstate movement protection, and APHIS is the regulatory body in the U.S. that currently conducts inspections for queen exportation. We have the same thing in Alberta. If we are moving interprovincially, we require information from the provincial apiculturists.
Mr. Hicks: Just to clarify, in the Alberta response to the risk assessment, we surveyed American scientists and American professionals. Our comments are not developed in a coffee shop in some small town in Alberta. That information is from authoritative figures, and after CFIA responds, we intend to address this with more specifics. We certainly have an interest in this and we will follow up on it as well.
Senator Robichaud: This might change the recommendation to import package bees or not, would it? Depending on the findings?
Mr. Campbell: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: But you wouldn't agree?
Mr. Berg: In Saskatchewan we are very pleased with the outcome of the risk assessment. We felt it was the right outcome. There is a significant risk to Canadian beekeeping with opening that border.
Senator Ogilvie: So far, this has been an exceedingly interesting and important meeting to hear very real observations and to recognize what should be obvious but apparently isn't in the differences in a major agricultural area, in this case dealing with insects in differences of terrain, geography climate, et cetera. My question is to give perspective with regard to the total terrain.
Taking the last five years in the three Prairie provinces, has there been any major increase in the amount of cultivated land? That is my first question and I have a brief second question.
Mr. Berg: I would say no.
Mr. Nixon: In Alberta, no, to my knowledge there has been no increase in cultivated land. We are maxed out.
Mr. Campbell: I really couldn't speak to that either.
Senator Ogilvie: Has there been any major change in weed or pest control in the non-agricultural lands in the three provinces, the marginal lands, the highway lands, those lands that surround major crop growing areas?
Mr. Nixon: No.
There is one thing that drives me nuts. I was driving through my entire county in July and August seeing a 10- or 12-foot width of yellow, dead or dying clover. I mentioned in regard to bee nutrition that this is an area that could be addressed. Alberta beekeepers struck a committee to try and initiate these discussions with regional, provincial governments. We were asking for help in making these discussions take place.
The Canadian Honey Council is also interested in these discussions because from what we hear, it can be different in different regions. It depends whose boundaries we're talking within and there are possibly other industry sectors we can work with to help. I believe there are more chemicals being used to control for convenience.
Senator Ogilvie: Coming back to my question, over the last five years, do you believe there has been a significant increase in the amount of that activity?
Mr. Nixon: Yes.
Senator Ogilvie: In Alberta.
Mr. Nixon: Yes. A few years ago I made a call to somebody on this and they were supposed to be using spot treatment methods, but I no longer see spot treatment; I see a truck sprayer with the boom hanging over the side going from one end of the road to the other.
Senator Ogilvie: What about Manitoba and Saskatchewan?
Mr. Berg: In the last five years we have seen an increase in the use of convenience spraying both in crops and along roadsides.
Mr. Campbell: We've seen the same. As Kevin mentioned, you will be driving down the road and see places where there are trees and what should have been flowering plants that are sprayed dead. A beekeeper in my own hometown lost hives this year from the municipality spraying for grasshoppers. When farmers are spraying for grasshoppers it seems strange to be spraying the ditches for grasshoppers as well.
Senator Ogilvie: Thank you.
Senator Demers: I'm replacing tonight here.
I'm a city boy, and I have a comment and also have a question. What a great committee to learn what I have learned tonight. It's unbelievable. I live in a country where bees drive me nuts; they bite my dogs. I burn what is left on the roof. I will never kill a bee again, I'll tell you that.
I'm sitting here listening to everyone; what a great education. I'm so glad I'm replacing someone. I'm not trying to get on the committee by the way. I'm just being honest. I never thought bees were that important. Yes, they make honey but they're extremely important for Canada. Thank you so much for your presentation. It's a good education for me. They say you never stop learning and I learned a lot tonight.
The beekeeping industry in Canada encompasses commercial beekeepers as well as hobby beekeepers. The question is: What are the challenges associated with the diversity of producers?
Mr. Hicks: Senator Mercer toyed with this issue. I don't think it's in the scope of the committee, around the economics of beekeeping, but we were talking about coffee shop economics and developed a little bit of coffee shop economics this afternoon.
If you take the gross numbers from Statistics Canada, it appears that Canadians contribute about $7 per Canadian to the beekeeping industry in Canada. We're talking in terms of fruit and berries and nuts and the contribution that honeybees make across the country. It seems like a $7 contribution per person isn't that significant. As an industry, we have a lack, to a certain degree, of professionalism in some things we do, in terms of IPM and our ability to hire professionals to develop IPM programs and that sort of thing. I would say that if there were things that could change to improve the industry, if we even increase Canadians' contribution to the bee industry to $12 or $13 per Canadian, which is still not a huge financial burden for a country like Canadian, it would make a sea change in the beekeeping industry.
Mr. Nixon: I will come back to the question that was asked.
To comment on your opening comments, one third of the food we eat requires pollination from a honeybee, so it is significant.
Urban beekeepers, hobby beekeepers, are an important part of the industry. In a lot of ways, they are the face of our industry. As commercial beekeepers, running a business isn’t necessarily at the farmers' markets downtown in the cities, facing the public. They are an important part of the industry. One of the challenges is getting some of that information out to them, and that was asked earlier. How do we provide that flow down?
We believe it is working in Alberta, but we had to make some changes to get there. Because of the environment of the bee industry the last few years, “Save the Bee” campaigns are everywhere, and it's a good thing for the industry. There are people who want to manage their bees in as organic a way as possible, which is fine, but the fact of the matter is that bees fly, and disease and pests intermingle. It's trying to share that information between the groups. If they choose not to use that information, that`s up to them, but it also is a risk of exposure to the commercial beekeeper. There is that relationship, though.
The Chair: Mr. Berg and Mr. Campbell, do you want to add to that answer?
Mr. Berg: I don't think I can add a whole lot.
Mr. Campbell: I think that was a good view on things.
Senator Rivard: My question is for Mr. Nixon.
In your presentation, under heading C, entitled “Factors affecting bee health” you state that in Alberta there do not seem to be many agro-pesticide incidents, even though the same products are used on canola, potatoes and corn. You attribute this situation to the success of your communication and education program for aerial applicators. Would you care to elaborate a bit more on the topic and tell us if this program is still active and whether it can be found in Quebec and in Ontario?
Mr. Nixon: I'm not sure if that relationship exists in Quebec and Ontario. I believe you may have some witnesses coming who could answer that better than I can.
In my comments here, there are two separate things. The relationship with aerial applicators is foliar applications to a crop, and that relationship has been growing every year, I would say, as well as the relationship with farmers. A lot of farmers are custom spraying or self-application, and communication is key. All over the province, I think it's just getting better and better.
The second part of that is the neonicitinoid issue and the pesticides being used on canola and other crops. That's what I'm referring to. The same neonic that is being used on the corn and soy, where we hear of these incidents in Ontario and Quebec, is the same product that is being used on canola seed in Western Canada, so we're not seeing these same incidences reported in the Prairies.
Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, in testimony that we heard from witnesses I believe from Atlantic Canada, and I think also from Quebec, they talked about cooperation between beekeepers and farmers with respect to spraying, and indeed it may have been some people from Ontario as well. The cooperation was that the farmers agreed not to spray. If they knew where the hives were, they would agree not to spray when the wind was blowing that way or, if possible, they would spray at night when the bees were back in the hives. It seems to me this is not the only solution to the problem, but it sounds like a simple solution that has worked out. It's a human solution as opposed to a scientific solution.
Is there any effort within the bee industry and also within the farm industry to come up with an agreement so that, where possible, spraying happens at night or, if the wind is blowing in one direction, farmers say they will not spray that field today but can spray over there where there is no hive and come back to the other field when the wind is either not blowing or blowing in another direction? Is there any effort to have some cooperation and coordination?
Mr. Berg: In Saskatchewan, we have been working on that effort a lot. Over the past winter, we have been working on introducing DriftWatch, which is a GPS location map that beekeepers will be to use to pinpoint their hive locations. Any applicator will be able to go on that same mapping system and see where all the hives are located.
Senator Mercer: What will that do? Is there going to be a formal agreement or an ad hoc, for lack of a better term, gentlemen's agreement between the beekeepers and the farmers?
Mr. Berg: At this point, it is a voluntary use system. It would be voluntary for the operators to look at this system. But it is putting the locations out there. The one thing we've always heard in the past was, “Oh, I didn't realize the bees were there.”
Senator Mercer: That's a question I've been meaning to ask because we heard this in the beginning of the study. If there is a hive next to a field and the bees are out doing what they are there to do, doesn't the farmer know that they are there? If he doesn't know they are there, it could be because they are on the next farm, of course. Isn't there some way of readily identifying it, such as a flag that flies above the hive that says “beehive,” so that the farmer say, “Ah ha, even though they are not bees I brought in, I know there are bees there.” There must be some way of universally identifying a hive so that all farmers will know. The farmers need you just as much as you need them, if not more. There should be a way of coming together and cooperating with each other by somehow identifying where hives are and farmers taking responsibility for sensible spraying. I'm not suggesting that they don't spray, but sensible spraying. Is that what DriftWatch will do?
Mr. Berg: That's what DriftWatch is going to be about. In Saskatchewan, often our hives are hidden in old abandoned yard sites where there are 30- or 40-foot tall trees around them, so unless your neighbour farmer happens to drive on that yard site, he has no reason to drive in there. Those bees could be there for 20 years and he may not know, and he could have a field a quarter mile or a half mile away.
Senator Mercer: They are being pollinated by those bees.
Mr. Berg: That would be the problem. Unless you are up in an airplane, if you are spraying with a ground rig you might not know those hives are there.
Mr. Nixon: It's a tricky one. Bees can fly a three-mile radius, so they can cover a large area. I think there is a regional difference in this situation as well because in the Prairies, large quarter-section areas are being farmed. In a lot of cases one farmer will have a lot of land in a specific area. Coming out east here, these quarter sections are broken up into much smaller pieces of land and multiple landowners. How many people are you going to call to make arrangements to spray on a windy or non-windy day? We have to make sure there is practicality there. We realize that for growers there is a window of opportunity to control some things, and we need to respect that.
It's a tough one. I think there has been significant progress with the work by PMRA in how they are assessing chemicals and new product registrations for their toxicity to bees. There is some good work being done there as well.
Senator Mercer: What about the annual meeting of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture? Are beekeepers present there?
Mr. Hicks, you mentioned education earlier, but that was internal. Isn't it the responsibility of beekeepers to educate farmers on a national scale, to be at the CFA annual meeting and regional meetings to say, “Here's our problem and, guess what, if you're not successful, you're not going to be successful”?
Mr. Nixon: I think that has started, but we've got a way to go with that. The Canadian Honey Council definitely has engaged in discussions with some of these other sectors. But we do have a long way to go and you are exactly right: We need to get our face out there in front of these people and let them know why, who, when and how, and it has to be done.
Senator Buth: I have a comment in terms of what Senator Robichaud was talking about. CFIA has appeared before the committee and talked about the process that they are going through in terms of the risk assessment, so I didn't want to leave the impression that they hadn't been here.
Senator Robichaud: My comment, Senator Buth, was in relation to their letter to them.
Senator Buth: It's part of the risk assessment process. I'm just making a comment.
Senator Robichaud: There are very important questions. I think they could answer here.
Senator Buth: Sorry to start the debate in the wrong place.
I'm curious about your check-offs. Do each of your organizations have check-offs or a levy system essentially, and how is that money spent?
Mr. Campbell: We don't have a check-off, per se, in Manitoba for bees, no.
Senator Baker: How does your organization survive then?
Mr. Campbell: We scrape by; membership dues, mainly. Also, we collect a little bit of money from bee samples that are analyzed for bee health.
Mr. Berg: In Saskatchewan, we have two organizations. We have the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Association, which is kept alive by membership dues and advertising, and we have the Saskatchewan Beekeepers Development Commission, and it's kept alive by a check-off levy.
Senator Buth: How much is that?
Mr. Berg: I think we are at a dollar a hive right now.
Senator Buth: So that goes into a pool of money?
Mr. Berg: It goes into a pool of money. Research and education is their mandate.
Mr. Nixon: Our commission is regulated. It's a voluntary commission, and producers remit their levy per hive. It's a flat fee plus per hive. It's voluntary, so they may request a refund.
We've done fairly well since we've become a commission. We've been a commission since 2002, just over 10 years. I believe we have 95 per cent compliance — if that's the correct word — or support from producers. We have a great manager in our office who treats the money as if it's hers, and we are able to allocate probably a quarter of our budget to research funding.
Senator Buth: Do you know if the Canadian Honey Council or any other beekeeper association is accessing any funds through the research clusters, the agri-science clusters?
Mr. Hicks: Yes. The members of Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists access NSERC funding and AgriInnovation funding, and there are several funding organizations that our professionals are able to participate in.
Mr. Berg: In Saskatchewan, we have the adaptation team, which was just awarded a $499,000 grant. Medhat Nasr is involved in that as well. Rob Currie, from Manitoba, is in that study at well. It's a three-year study. Those gentlemen were here in the past to testify.
Senator Buth: I have a question on the pollination for almonds. Mr. Campbell, you were talking about that, if you could get the same amount of income that the beekeepers are getting from pollinating almonds. Do you know what they get for pollinating almonds in the U.S.?
Mr. Campbell: I believe in previous years they have been getting up to $150 per colony.
Senator Buth: So they would get paid to put the colonies into an almond orchard then?
Mr. Campbell: That's correct, yes, much the same as blueberries in Canada, or cranberries, even hybrid canola in Alberta.
Senator Buth: What would you get for hybrid canola production, Mr. Nixon?
Mr. Nixon: There are some minor differences within companies, of course. Every company has its own contract. They do inspect our hives. They inspect 10 per cent of the bees we supply and they grade them, so there is a sliding scale. It's about 150 per hive for a base.
Senator Buth: That's similar then in terms of the pollination service that you are providing.
Mr. Nixon: Yes.
Senator Robichaud: For the record, I know it's in the letter or the information you sent us, the cost of importing bees from New Zealand and Australia compared to importing them from California and commenting on the state of their health when they get here, which has a direct impact on the price that you pay for whatever you get.
Mr. Nixon: Because of our dollar, I think the price from Australia and New Zealand went up 10 or 15 per cent the past few weeks. Right now it looks like the price of package bees from those two areas will be around $150 for a two-pound package, one kilo from New Zealand.
We can open up an American beekeeper magazine today and see a three-pound package of bees going for $45. We are all business people, and the Americans know what we're buying packages from Australia and New Zealand for. Realistically, we don't expect these packages to be coming in at $45; but the health in itself is valuable. From Australia and New Zealand, a big part of the $150 is for freight. At times, a problem for accessing packages is the number of planes and how much space they have to ship bees. You can imagine that it's a delicate shipment. Literally, complete shipments have been lost in transit due to overheating. There are definitely some risks in importing packages. We believe that bang-for-the-buck, we can access just as good or better bees for equal money or less.
Senator Robichaud: From California.
Mr. Nixon: Yes.
Senator Buth: I've become aware that there is bee insurance in Saskatchewan. Is this a new program? Can you tell me a bit about it?
Mr. Berg: Mortality insurance was announced yesterday by the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance program. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend that unveiling as I was on my way to Ottawa. It's brand new to us. I believe that Manitoba and Alberta have a program like that in place already. This will be the first year that it's available to us. Unfortunately, I don't know the details.
Senator Buth: That's an interesting area in terms of insurance, so perhaps our research analysts could get some of the information.
Mr. Campbell: We've had two-years' experience with overwinter mortality insurance. We're in our third winter now. I've taken part in the insurance program, and my first year was claim free. Last year, I wasn't so lucky. I would much rather have live bees in my hives than some money to try hopefully to access more. When you have a severe loss like we had, and your winter lasts as long as it ours did, by the time you find out about the loss, in many cases it's too late to order new bees. You receive money from the insurance for that loss and you end up living on it to get you through the year because you don't have an income from those lost hives.
It saves a lot of businesses, but it's really not an answer.
Senator Buth: I understand that and was just curious about it because I hadn't heard about the insurance program. We would like not to have to deal with floods and things like that.
Mr. Campbell: We're very thankful for what Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation has done for us.
Senator Buth: Mr. Nixon, do you have any experience with mortality insurance?
Mr. Nixon: We have had it in Alberta for about five years, I believe. The uptake on it has not been very high. To trigger a claim given the cost of the premiums, it really didn't work out for the producer, but in some situations it might work. I have similar comments to those of Mr. Campbell.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much.
Senator Robichaud: Can we expect a copy of the response that you will get from the CFIA?
Mr. Nixon: If we get one, I think we could share it.
Senator Robichaud: Okay.
The Chair: That was a little question and a little answer.
In previous meetings, the committee heard about the key role that native bees play in crop, fruit and vegetable pollination across Canada. Can share with us whether some of your members breed native bees and what percentage of native bees they would breed?
I'll start with Mr. Nixon. It was a short question, for a short answer.
Mr. Nixon: No, we commercial beekeepers manage European honeybees. Native bees live within populations, and we're using stock that is meant to produce a honey crop to pollinate. Native bees naturally live in a smaller population and aren't as easily manageable.
Mr. Berg: No comments.
Mr. Campbell: No. I would just add not only in small populations but also small population densities. As he pointed out, across most of the Prairies, you are in huge agricultural areas so there probably isn't much room for them anymore.
The Chair: To the witnesses, you testimony has been very educational. Your presence shows cooperation and has touched on the mandate of our order of reference ensuring bee health. Thank you very much. If you feel that you want to add to your testimony, please do not hesitate to contact the clerk of the committee.
Mr. Nixon, before I adjourn the meeting, you have the last word.
Mr. Nixon: I just want to say thank you for this opportunity and for looking into the issue at this level. I would love to throw out the invitation: If any of you are ever in Alberta, get in touch with us directly at our office. We would love to show you beekeeping in Alberta.
Senator Demers: Mr. Nixon, he has a condo in Florida.
The Chair: The meeting is adjourned. To the witnesses, thank you.
(The committee adjourned.)