Warm weather ahead for beekeepers in the area
Global warming could mean less honey and higher costs for Alberta beekeepers, according to experts who are scheduled to attend a conference this week.
Hundreds of Alberta farmers will be at the Fantasyland Hotel in Edmonton from November 25-26 for the 2021 Alberta Beekeepers Commission conference to discuss the latest trends in beekeeping. Topics include bee genetics, robot beekeeping, and the varroa mite, an insidious pest that for many years was one of Alberta’s leading honey bee killers.
In the background of the conference, the record-breaking heat of last summer scorched the canola crops and forced bees to collect water for cooling rather than nectar for honey.
Some ranchers have had to carry drums full of water to hydrate their bees, said Rod Scarlett, executive director of the Honey Council of Canada, an unprecedented and expensive practice in Alberta.
The high heat also encouraged the high reproduction of bees and, therefore, Varroa mites, said Jeremy Olthof, chairman of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission.
“The mite population has just exploded.”
Global warming means more extreme heat and drought in the years to come, said JC Cahill, professor of plant ecology at the University of Alberta and speaker at the conference.
“Drought causes plants to produce fewer flowers and the flowers are smaller, and bees don’t like them. You also have less nectar, ”he said.
“Almost everything you don’t want to happen is happening with drought.”
About 75 percent of Alberta’s honey comes from canola, and canola stops producing flowers at 30 ° C, Cahill said. The heat of summer has led to a decrease in the number of canola flowers, which seems to have caused bees to turn to more drought tolerant and more weedy species instead.
Beekeepers suspect this change in behavior may explain why this year’s honey was darker than usual, Scarlett said. The heat itself also appears to have sapped honey production, with early estimates pointing to a 20% drop in this year’s harvest.
This color change could be a problem if it persists, Olthof said.
“Canadian honey is known as canola honey,” he said, and is known for its light color.
“If we started getting darker all the time, we’d probably lose a lot of markets.”
The heat of last summer led to more complaints from homeowners about bees using their hot tubs as watering holes, Olthof said. There were also rumors about the recent flooding in British Columbia (caused by extreme weather conditions, which climate change makes more likely) may have destroyed many overwintering beehives in Alberta.
The Climate Atlas of Canada suggests that the Edmonton area could experience six to eight more days of very hot weather (+30 C) by 2050, in addition to more and longer heat waves (periods of +30 C temperatures) and higher peak temperatures (around 33 C, compared to around 31 C in the recent past).
With all forecasts predicting more extreme heat in Alberta’s future, Cahill said this could make the province inhospitable for canola.
“You may need to change what you plant. “
Seed companies are working on more heat-tolerant strains of canola, but it’s unclear whether bees would be attracted to them, Scarlett said. Olthof said Albertans may have to adapt California practices for cooling (like painting beehives white) if high temperatures persist.
Olthof said he was hoping for a ton of snow this winter to avoid a repeat of last summer. Still, with high numbers of varroa mites in most hives, few pesticides available, and the pandemic limiting shipments of replacement bees, he predicts heavy losses this winter.
“I think it will be a bad spring,” he said.
Tickets for the conference are available at the door. Visit albertabeekeepers.ca for details.