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Short Winter Eases Manitoba Bee Losses

“Weather is a big part of the losses in Canada.”

– RHEAL LAFRENIERE, MAFRI

Ashort winter may have moderated the loss of Mani toba honeybee colonies this year, following three years of abnormally high losses.

Winter colony losses appear closer to traditional levels of 20 to 25 per cent, compared to annual losses of around 30 per cent or higher since 2007, according to preliminary data from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Relatively mild winter weather, combined with an early spring, helped bee colonies come through in better shape than previous years, said provincial apiculturist Rheal Lafreniere.

“Weather is a big part of the losses in Canada. There’s no doubt about it,” Lafreniere said.

COLD SPRING

A cold, late spring in 2009 was devastating for Manitoba honeybees. Producers lost 32 per cent of their colonies.

But a late fall gave beekeepers plenty of time to prepare their colonies for overwintering. The warm spring this year enabled them to get into

their colonies early and carry out varroa mite control. As a result, colonies are much healthier than they were at this point in 2009, Lafreniere said.

“The report ing to us is that the colonies are looking stronger.”

Alberta and Saskatchewan also report lower colony losses than in the last few years. But losses are reportedly much higher on Vancouver Island, where an unusually wet winter may have been a factor, said Lafreniere.

The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists is conducting a national survey to determine colony losses in each province. Results are expected June 15.

U. S. LOSSES HIGH

While bee losses may have abated on the Prairies, they remain high in the United States.

Losses of managed U. S. honeybee colonies between October 2009 and April 2010 totalled 33.8 per cent, according to a survey by the Apiary Inspectors of America and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

That’s an increase from overall losses of 29 per cent in the winter of 2008-09 and 35.8 per cent in 2007-08, ARS reported.

The continuing high losses have revived fears about Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon first reported in the U. S. in November 2006.

CCD is characterized by a mysterious loss of adult bees, which seem to simply vanish from their hives.

According to ARS, 28 per cent of beekeeping operations reported some of their colonies perished with no dead bees present (a classic sign of CCD). Those operations lost 44 per cent of their colonies. That compares to 28 per cent of beekeepers reporting such dead colonies in 2008-09 and 32 per cent in 2007-08, ARS reported.

CCD has not been identified in Canada, despite high losses in recent years.

SPOTTY

Lafreniere said losses this past winter appear spotty throughout Manitoba. Some producers report high loss rates and others report low rates.

The early spring could be positive for the honey flow this summer, depending on how crops develop.

A lot of canola was seeded in April, which means the honey flow could start early after blossoming begins. But it could also wrap up early unless some canola gets seeded later this spring to extend the flow through the summer, said Lafreniere.

The number of honeybee colonies in Manitoba has been sharply reduced to 76,000 last fall from 85,000 in 2006. But improved survivability could mean colony numbers will recover this year. Lafreniere said producers are rebuilding their colonies and could have 80,000 ready for the coming winter. [email protected]

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