Massive die off of bees reported in Oxford County, Canada

Beekeeper John VanBlyderveen points to a frame he suspects is contamined with neonicotinoid pesticide. He removed dozens of these frames from his hives in hopes he could stop his bees from being poisoned over the winter.  TARA BOWIE / SENTINEL-REVIEW / QMI AGENCY

Planting season hasn’t even started yet and at least one Ontario beekeeper is reporting a massive bee kill at one of his yards.

John VanBlyderveen, owner of Oxford Honey and Supplies, said Pest Management Regulatory Agency inspectors took dead bee samples from one of his yards in Newark, just west of Norwich, Tuesday.

Inspectors also took pollen samples from nearby bee-foraged plants for the first time since studies started on neonicotinoid poisoning.

“There were dead bees out front, partially paralyzed. It’s typical neonicotinoid poisoning,” he said. “Residual toxicity levels out there are killing the bees even before planting starts.”

VanBlyder veen knows at least one other beekeeper planning to report a massive bee kill already this year. This beekeeper is located about three hours north of London.

Although winter losses are normally expected between the 10 to 20% range, VanBlyderveen said at least 43 % of his bees died over the winter, despite efforts that included removing frames from hives suspected of having honey contaminated with neonicotinoid residue.

“If the honey is there, they are forced to use it,” he said. “I consider myself lucky at that rate. There are others that lost 90% and some that aren’t planning to replenish.”

Because of the poisonings last year, his bees produced half of his usual honey crop, totalling about 22 kilograms (50 pounds).

Vanblyderveen doesn’t hold insurance on his hives because insurance doesn’t cover bee kills, just lost honey production.

“If you report a bee kill, they’ll cancel your insurance,” he said.

He’s contemplated leaving the industry but is determined to continue on as long as he can in hopes he can help put a stop to neonicotinoid use.

“I see this as a chemistry problem. This is not a farming problem. They are doing what they can to minimize the exposure, but it’s a chemistry problem,” he said.

VanBlyderveen has heard at least four large beekeeping operations in Ontario that each have at least 200 hives are calling it quits this year, which has left some fruit and vegetable farmers scrambling to find pollinators for this year’s crops.

“There is a shortage of bees to pollinate from the 401 south down to the lake. The losses are extremely high this year,” he said.

Although large beekeepers might be leaving the business, Vanblyderveen knows of many hobby and smaller beekeepers that are starting up operations.

“For the last five or six years, there’s been an increase in bee awareness. The hobby business is growing. Those people want to do good for the environment and some of are just generally interested. They want to see what is going on first hand,” he said.

Adding to the ongoing issues surrounding pesticide use is the late spring, setting beehive repopulation back even farther.

Vanblyderveen thinks it could have negative effects on blueberry production on the East Coast, which relies on bees being sent from Southern Ontario to pollinate.

“The rebuilding is going slow for everyone because of the late spring,” he said.

Vanblyder veen has set out sugar syrup in some of his bee yards to help his bees. He’s shied away from the practice because he knows they will eventually forage for their own food.

“If they have their choice between nectar and the sugar syrup, they go for the nectar. You can’t stop them,” he said. “This year because of the cold late spring I’ve had to help them by putting it out.”

Because he’s already experienced one possible neonicotinoid bee kill already, he’s fearful of what will happen to his surviving bees once planting season starts in the next few weeks.

“Not only are they being poisoned at planting time but we lose foragers all year round. This stuff is building up. It’s a loose molecule in the soil. Who knows how far it will go?” he said. “If I was the general public I’d insist for the Ministry of Environment check air samples.”

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