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Beekeepers dodge winter loss woes

Initial reports hint at good winter survival for Manitoba’s bees

Manitoba’s frigid start to 2019 did little to phase the honey industry.

The Manitoba Beekeepers Association says most of its members reported good winter survival rates, with the exception of some parts of the Interlake.

Why it matters: Manitoba’s honey sector took a hit on winter survival last year, but this year’s numbers look more optimistic.

“It was quite mixed results for some guys in the Interlake,” association president Mark Friesen said. “Some people keep their hives outdoors, but a lot keep their hives indoors. More and more people are moving their hives indoors, so those kind of deep, long winters don’t have the same impact.”

The Canadian Association of Professional Apiarists estimates that half of Manitoba’s hives were wintered inside as of 2018.

Manitoba’s winter was not kind to the livestock industry, with temperatures plummeting well below -30 C for blocks of January and February. Manitoba’s cattle sector, already concerned after lacklustre forage harvests in 2018, reported quickly dwindling feed supplies.

That same consistent cold may have actually been a boon to his industry, Friesen said. Wildly fluctuating temperatures are harder on hibernating bees.

“The bees don’t know how to modulate their temperature very well in those conditions,” he said.

MASC is still assessing this winter’s impact. About 25 claims have been filed with the Overwinter Bee Insurance program, manager of claims services David Koroscil said, down from 43 last year. The program saw 53 policies registered this year.

Producers have until May 15 to file a claim without late fees.

Pleasant change

The initial reports are a far cry from last spring, when Canada’s apiarists suffered the worst winter losses since 2009, according to CAPA’s annual survey. The survey, which covered about 64 per cent of all registered hives in Canada, found 32.6 per cent of colonies unviable in spring 2018.

In Manitoba, winter loss in 2018 hovered around 25 per cent, or 27,940 hives, CAPA estimated.

Eight provinces, including Manitoba, cited weather as the main cause of loss in 2018. Most bee colonies died during, “one of the coldest, snowiest and wettest Aprils in years,” CAPA reported.

Looking for water

Friesen says beekeepers would like to see more moisture this spring, but noted that many producers, including himself, have moved hives to more bee-friendly areas after two years of dry weather.

“If you have your hives in an area with marginal forage, meaning there’s not a lot of creeks and ravines that don’t have a lot of natural tree forage, then if you continue during a drought to try and operate your operation in those settings, then eventually you have to realize you’ve got to reposition yourself,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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