Canada’s Blueberry Farms Don’t Have Enough Bees, Everyone Should Be Worried

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No story, no matter how salacious or eye-grabbing, is as buzzworthy as this one. That’s because it’s about bees.

Unfortunately, however, it’s about the sudden lack of them in Canada, where farmers and the agriculture industry are fretting that a population collapse threatens millions in commerce and the stability of the food chain.

Not on Their Best Beehive-iour

Bees, as you learned in elementary school, spread pollen from one flowering plant to another, allowing the plants to reproduce. This provides the world with delicious treats like apples, cherries, and almonds. In fact, 100 US crops rely on pollinators, which add $18 billion to annual crop production in the US, according to the Department of Agriculture.

But bee populations are also notoriously volatile, especially in the last 20 years. While the number of honeybees managed by beekeepers has increased more than 80% since the 1960s, American beekeepers still lose an average of 40% of their bees each year due to things like parasite contagions and extreme weather. In Canada, a sudden decline has led to serious concerns in one key industry:

  • Up to 400,000 bee colonies have been lost this year, the Canadian Honey Council says. The country has been able to import 40,000 packages of bees, mostly from New Zealand, but that equals only about 10% of the losses — the result is Canada’s $211 million blueberry sector, the world’s seventh-largest exporter, may soon not have the ecosystem required to grow.
  • “The number of bees we need this year highlights how susceptible the industry is to a disaster situation,” said Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Canadian Honey Council, told Bloomberg. “The greater fear is if we have something close to this next year, things like the pollination industry and the fruit crops and even canola seed could be in jeopardy.”

Paid Time Off: Mark Winston, an expert in bees at Simon Fraser University, told Bloomberg that overworking bees contributed to the pollination crisis. Commercial pollinators will move bees around on trucks in units, subjecting them to what many experts call an unnatural environment. “The paradigm of bringing in honeybees is at a breaking point,” Winston said. “Bees are not getting better; they are slowly getting worse.”