The 2024 season promises to be difficult for beekeepers

It’s not just the marmot that makes itself seen in spring. The bee also waits for mild weather to resume its activities… Just like its worst enemy, the varroa, a parasite that causes many headaches for beekeepers.

“What we have as information is that things are not going well. There are going to be big losses again this year,” says Raphaël Vacher, president of Apiculteurs et apicultrices du Québec (AADQ), a professional union affiliated with the Union of Agricultural Producers.

Mr. Vacher has felt the pulse of beekeepers in recent weeks, and what he has heard is far from reassuring him. He fears a season “as catastrophic as that of 2022”, when around half of the bees had been decimated. “Then, two years later, we see the same situation again,” he laments. “Will the industry survive this? There is no company that can afford to have 50% losses twice in three years. »

In the dock is varroa, a mite native to Southeast Asia, which can cause physical damage to bees and transmit viruses to them, wiping out entire colonies in the process.

Control the beast

“It’s really a big nightmare, this little parasite, it’s the reason for the main mortality of hives,” says Sophie Roy, owner of La miellerie de Sophie, in Chaudière-Appalaches. She said it would take an employee dedicated to varroa control, a heavy burden for small businesses.

“I haven’t finished counting all my hives,” she says, “but I have more mortality than I expected, unfortunately. » The one that overwintered 330 hives last fall was able to keep its losses below 10% for a long time, but last year they amounted to around 40%.

Around September, beekeepers must apply treatments to reduce the quantity of parasites in the hives. “Normally, this method works well,” maintains Mr. Vacher, since it eliminates almost all of the parasite before winter and helps reduce losses in spring.

What kinds of treatments are we talking about? Essentially, we control varroa populations using synthetic pesticides or by using certain acids, explains Mr. Vacher. However, in Canada, few products are authorized when compared to the United States or Europe, according to him.

Climatic changes

Longer hot seasons can be a poisoned chalice for beekeepers.

Heat is not a bad thing for bees, says Raphaël Vacher. It allows them to develop and the queens to lay eggs, which increases the population in the hive. “In general, an early spring will help the hives develop, and that’s positive. »

But the other side of the coin is that the mild weather also allows varroa to develop. “Every two weeks its population doubles,” he says. And “if we have a longer season – which is really favored by climate change –, […] the varroa continues to reproduce.”

AADQ is also in the process of making its members aware of the use of a “mid-season treatment” in order to limit the damage caused by the parasite during the year, in addition to the fall treatment which must be done to prepare in winter.

The very mild temperatures also have effects on the bees’ diet, adds Tammy-Lyne Comtois Fortier, beekeeper at Miel l’été bleue. Too dry weather could affect the amount of nectar secreted by the plants on which bees feed, which could ultimately harm honey production.

“I have part of my hives which are in Montérégie and part which I leave in Saint-Augustin-de-Woburn, in Estrie, because they are two different climates. This allows me to not put all my eggs in one basket. » She is also optimistic about the coming season, just like Sophie Roy, who remains cautious.

“The last time I saw [un printemps aussi hâtif]it had perverse effects” due to a frost which caused the flowers to freeze, depriving the bees of food, recalls Mme Roy.

Beekeeping in Quebec in 2023

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