Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry

Issue 3 - Evidence - Meeting of January 28, 2014


OTTAWA, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5:02 p.m. for its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.

[English]

I am Senator Percy Mockler from New Brunswick and I am chair of the committee. At this time I would like to ask all honourable senators to introduce themselves.

Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia and I am the deputy chair.

[Translation]

Senator Tardif: Good evening. I am Claudette Tardif, and I am a senator from Alberta.

Senator Robichaud: I am Fernand Robichaud, and I am a senator from Saint-Louis-de-Kent, New Brunswick.

[English]

Senator Merchant: I'm Pana Merchant from Saskatchewan.

[Translation]

Senator Housakos: Good evening. I am Leo Housakos, and I am a senator from Montreal, Quebec.

Senator Maltais: I am Ghislain Maltais, and I am a senator from Quebec City, Quebec.

[English]

Senator Oh: I am Victor Oh from Ontario.

Senator Eaton: Welcome. I am Nicole Eaton from Ontario.

Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: I am Jean-Guy Dagenais, and I am a senator from Quebec.

[English]

Senator Ogilvie: I am Kelvin Ogilvie from Nova Scotia.

The Chair: Thank you for accepting our invitation. As you know, the committee is continuing its study on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada.

[Translation]

The Canadian Senate adopted the order of reference that the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry be authorized to examine and report on the importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed in Canada. In particular, the committee shall be authorized to examine this topic within the context of:

[English]

The importance of bees in pollination to produce food, especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production and honey production in Canada.

The committee will also consider the current state of native pollinators, leafcutters and honeybees in Canada; the factors affecting honeybee health, including disease, parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally; and strategies for governments, producers and industry to ensure bee health.

Today, honourable senators, we have two witnesses: Cory S. Sheffield, PhD, Research Scientist - Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, Royal Saskatchewan Museum; and Peter Kevan, PhD, Professor, Department of Environmental Biology at the University of Guelph.

On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry and senators present, thank you for accepting our invitation.

According to the clerk, the first presenter will be Mr. Kevan to be followed by Mr. Sheffield. We will then have a question and answer from the witnesses as per the mandate. That said, would you please make your presentation?

Peter Kevan, PhD, FRSC, Professor Emeritus, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph: Thank you very much, honourable senators. It is a great honour to be here and to be able to talk to you.

As you will see from the first page of the presentation, I am the Scientific Director of the Canadian Pollination Initiative, which was funded five years ago by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council to the tune of $5 million. It brings about 50 scientists and their teams together from 30 institutions right across Canada, all working on pollination problems.

We have covered the first page; the chair has gone over the four issues. I did make the presumption to add another issue, the importance of insect pollination as an ecosystem service to wildlife and forests in Canada. My colleague and friend, Mr. Sheffield, will address that as well.

I wanted to talk a bit about the crop pollination and its worth to Canadian agriculture. In the previous transcripts, I have not seen a great deal of that in a balanced context, so I want to talk about the value of different pollinators to crop pollination. I will deal with honeybees, leafcutter bees and bumblebees.

The role and importance of pollination in food security and ecosystem sustainability is well recognized by international and national organizations. Pollination relations are central to a large number of our crops that I have listed here and also on issues to do with biological control in pest management in all sorts of different environments, including agriculture and forestry, involved in natural food webs and natural ecosystem function.

Insect pollination has an estimated worth of $2.71 billion per year globally for food and fibre production. That is a large amount of money, and it has been estimated that we should be thanking an insect pollinator for one in three bites of our food. It's an important consideration.

I have provided a table on pollination and pollinators in agriculture, the plants and their animal actors in terms of pollination. I go through orchard crops, small and tender fruits. I know there has been some discussion on blueberries in this standing committee and a bit on oilseed crops — canola and sunflower. In the greenhouse industry with bumblebees, forage legumes came up in reference to the Peace River by Dr. Pernal, and also vegetables that are dependent on insects for pollination.

The value of honeybees for crop pollination is estimated to be between $1.3 and $1.7 billion annually in Canada. There are about 300,000 colonies, maybe more, which go on to hybrid canola seed production in the West, 35,000 colonies onto lowbush blueberries in the East and about 15,000 colonies for fruit trees. These 2009 figures are from a presentation that I gave to the Canadian Club in Hamilton.

The average rental fee is about $120 per colony, so there are $42 million in hive rentals going into the beekeeping industry, and that is increasing. Honey, on the other hand, has a value of about $105 million per year at 28 million kilograms per year being produced. Both of those are highly important components to the beekeeping industry, but the tendency is now for pollination services to become increasingly important.

Going on to leaf-cutting bees, it is reckoned that about 50,000 bees per hectare are used for the pollination of alfalfa for seed production alone. In Saskatchewan, that means about 2 billion bees alone, where 75 per cent of Canada's alfalfa seed production actually occurred in 2009. So, about 13.5 million kilograms of seeds, $40 million worth of product, and the bees are worth about 30 per cent of the seed value. That's an old figure: 25 to 30 per cent of the seed value goes back to the economy of the leaf-cutting bee industry in alfalfa seed production.

For bumblebees, the primary evidence is from greenhouse tomato production. There are over 700 acres of greenhouses in production in Ontario. That makes up 75 per cent of the Canadian production. Quebec is coming along strongly, and British Columbia is there as well. That means about $290 million a year in produce. The bumblebees that are used, produced commercially, come to a business of about $3.7 million per year, split really with about two companies that are doing most of that provisioning of bumblebees.

In reference to the importance of insect pollination as an ecosystem service for wildlife — and it did not come out well in what you have before you, but it looks nice on my PowerPoint — it boils down to our migratory and resident birds, particularly in the fall and winter, that depend on seed and fruit in the forest. They are produced through pollinators' activities on the wild plants in the forest.

As an example, because black bears did come up in discussion in the standing committee before, a sow black bear feeding on berries in northern Ontario or northern Quebec will add about 20 kilograms of body weight per week. That is all in fat, which is important for hibernation, because it is during hibernation that she gives birth to the cubs and the cubs suckle. If there are no berries for her to feed on, she goes into winter with certainly much less in the way of a healthy body to produce her cubs, and things are difficult for the sows and particularly for the cubs in the spring of the year.

I will not talk much about the current state of native pollinators in Canada because Dr. Sheffield is going to address that in particular. But the situation is it's the same number of problems: habitat destruction and fragmentation, agriculture, urbanization, pesticides, pollution, climate change and pathogens that are involved with the problems we have there.

I have read a lot and you have heard a lot on factors affecting honeybee health, including diseases, parasites and pesticides, in Canada and globally. The next few slides really summarize those. You have heard from Rod Scarlett and Stephen Pernal particularly on those issues.

One of the things that came out of the studies that the Canadian pollination network did in terms of what's happening with the demography of beekeeping in Canada — and this did not come out very strongly in the previous transcripts — is that it seems that the number of beekeepers in Canada is actually declining, and declining quite rapidly. But the number of colonies, interestingly enough, is remaining fairly stable and is even increasing. This means that beekeeping itself is becoming a more intensive agricultural endeavour and it's in the hands of rather fewer and fewer people when it comes to the practical issues.

On the urban issues — and there was a question in the previous transcripts about that — I can certainly say there is a great upsurge in urban interest in hobby beekeeping. This is really going on. And there is a lot of interest in urban areas in the conservation of pollinators for gardens and for natural history buffs.

I'll go into the strategies for governments and producers and industry to ensure bee health. One is to have an objective and thorough review. I think this standing committee is making some strong inroads into that. This was also part of the mandate of the Canadian Pollination Initiative. We do have negotiations in place to work with the Royal Society of Canada, of which I am a fellow, to help look at the status of pollination in Canada. We can follow the status of pollinators in North America as published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences: a very valuable document. I was on that study team. I kept saying Canada was a leader in the whole business of pollinators and pollinator management, pollinator protection and pollinator conservation, and that's there.

I think in the government we need more policy consideration, extension and research and development. Federal and provincial jurisdictions are pretty harmonious in respect of the whole business of pollination, inasmuch as we have so much good collaboration across the country between the beekeepers through the Canadian Honey Council, the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists and the activities of the Canadian Pollination Initiative.

When it comes to the private sector, the beekeepers themselves have few resources, and I'm sure you'll hear about that in the future. The growers themselves have few resources. The agri-chemical industry has large resources, but they have corporate agendas and policies that have not lent themselves well to the support of the Canadian Pollination Initiative.

We need public research, development and innovation. We certainly need, in the case of pollination, to ease the requirements for private sector cooperation — matching cash — for both academic and government institutions to proceed in looking at how we can deal with pollinator health and pollination health in Canada. That has been a very difficult thing to do.

Those are my remarks. Thank you very much, honourable senators, for your attention.

The Chair: Thank you, doctor.

Now we will ask Dr. Sheffield to make his presentation, to be followed by questions.

Cory S. Sheffield, PhD, Research Scientist — Curator of Invertebrate Zoology, Royal Saskatchewan Museum: Thank you for having me here, honourable senators.

What I'm going to say will pretty much echo some of the things that Dr. Kevan said. My experience in the last decade or so has been focused on the native bee species in Canada. I did circulate a document which summarized our knowledge of the native bee species in Canada. It is surprising to most people when I tell them that we have over 800 native bee species in Canada. This is quite a lot.

The reason it is important to know this is that native bees make significant contributions to crop pollination in Canada, though we seldom appreciate or notice it, but we know it's a fact from some of the research that we've done. Globally, the literature suggests that native bees in some circumstances may be providing the majority of the pollination services to agriculture that are attributed to honeybees. I think this is important to look at. In many crop situations in Canada, this is probably also the case.

In the previous transcripts there was quite a bit of discussion on lowbush blueberry, which is one of the crops I have had experience working with in the past. In Eastern Canada you find over 70 species of native bees associated with this crop. This is quite a lot, but what's interesting from the perspective of pollination is that some of these bee species are pollen specialists, which means that these bees depend on blueberry for their livelihoods. What it means for us is that these bees are probably, bee for bee, the best pollinator of this crop.

From our perspective, when we think about pollinator declines, it is important to bring in knowledge of these other species because they do play a major part, although only a few references cite the importance. As stated in the information that I circulated to you, we know that these bees play an important part in this role. Some of the issues around why we may not be able to depend on them year after year have to do with the way these agricultural landscapes are managed. There are lots of peer-reviewed scientific studies — and I include some of these in the references section — that basically suggest that having native habitat adjacent to our agricultural systems enhances pollination through their ecosystems.

I mentioned that we have 800 bee species in Canada; and we have areas that are more abundantly species-rich. This corresponds with where our major agricultural centres are in the country: southern British Columbia, southern Ontario and Quebec, the Maritimes, and the Prairies, where I presently reside.

Another thing about native bees that I would like to mention is that we have several cases. Currently in Saskatchewan, my lab is working on pollination of a pretty new crop to Canada called haskap, which is one of the first plants to flower, often when there is still snow on the ground. Our studies indicate that the newly emerged bumblebee queens are the major pollinator of this crop. These bees will often fly when honeybees are not able to fly. There are probably several crop situations in Canada where you can point a finger at native bee species, which are bee-for-bee the most important pollinator. For instance, for lowbush blueberry and tomatoes to be pollinated, the flowers have to be vibrated to release the pollen. A lot of native bees do that where honeybees do not, so in some cases you find that they are not the ideal pollinator of some crops.

Mr. Kevan covered a lot of the information that is relevant to this, so I will mention just a few more things about where we are in terms of our knowledge of native pollinators. A lot of this stems from the Canadian Pollination Initiative that Mr. Kevan mentioned.

We will soon have a catalog of the bees of Canada, which means that for the first time we will have an accurate picture of how diverse bee pollinators are in Canada and where they are located. Right now I am also taking a general status assessment of the bees in Canada; and I gave you a summary of this in the information. The assessment will provide information on what we know about these bees and what some of the threats are that they currently face within the areas where they occur in Canada. This is also being done for other important native pollinators. My lab is working on the bees while the flower flies, another group of pollinators, are being assessed in Canada, as are the butterflies. Soon we will be in the position of knowing a lot about our native pollinators.

Being invited to this hearing, I was excited to know that the contributions of native pollinators are being considered by this committee as I think they play a major role. In the future, we should look at ways to keep them in the pollination equation because they play bigger parts. By tweaking how we manage our agricultural systems, we can learn to increase the services that they provide to us.

Senator Mercer: Gentlemen, thank you for being here. That was very informative, and the statistics that you bring are somewhat staggering.

Both presentations talked a lot about canola and lowbush blueberries, which are grown essentially in my neck of the woods, but I did not hear you mention grapes. The grape growers' harvest in Ontario this year was 79,756 tonnes, which is a record in Ontario. Is there a correlation between the use of bees in grape production?

Mr. Kevan: The wine grape is self-pollinating and self-compatible. The pollen that does move around tends to move around on the wind. With wild grapes, on the other hand, the sexes of the vines are separate, so that becomes another problem. For grape production, pollination is not really an issue.

Senator Mercer: Mr. Kevan, you mentioned federal-provincial collaborations. Most of the time when we hear about federal-provincial collaboration it is usually the lack thereof, but you seemed to say that there was good cooperation. What form is this collaboration taking?

Mr. Kevan: The collaboration across Canada in the beekeeping industry includes a lot of debate. There are regional differences of opinion, but they tend to get reconciled through the Canadian Honey Council and the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, where people are working closely together. A number of members of the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists are the provincial apiarists. They are coming together and representing their provinces, as well as the industry and its problems, to set priorities for research and development. That makes for a lot of harmony across the country, but it doesn't mean that it is all sweetness and light.

Senator Mercer: Or milk and honey.

Mr. Kevan: Yes, so that is one reason.

Also, we have a great deal of appreciation across the country for each other's research activities in academic institutions and in government institutions, and we are working together. This is very important. I have very close relations with the people at Harrow in the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station. Also, as Mr. Sheffield pointed out, work is going on with the Canadian national collection at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Ottawa. We have those sorts of collaborations. Stephen Pernal has been very much part of the Canadian Pollination Initiative. We are not allowed to give him money because that is part of NSERC's rules. Nonetheless, we are able to help partner up and give him the expertise and share what we find from what we do with him.

From those two points of view, we really do have harmony. From the point of view of legislation, most of the provinces have their bee acts. They vary from province to province and according to circumstances. Nonetheless, there is a lot of similarity.

Senator Mercer: In your presentation you talked about strategies for governments, producers and industry to ensure bee health. When you talked about the private sector, you talked about the three groups: beekeepers, growers and the agri-chemical industry. Of course, the agri-chemical industry has corporate money to do research, but they are coming at life from a different angle.

Has there ever been an attempt, as has happened in other agricultural sectors, by the beekeepers and growers to come together and start to fund some research on their own?

Mr. Kevan: In Alberta they are doing that, particularly the canola growers and the hybrid seed producers, and the Alberta beekeepers associations and the provincial apiarists. Shelley Hoover was hired recently by the canola producers, if I am not mistaken. She is working on the whole business of canola and associated pollination issues. There is good collaboration throughout Alberta for that.

There has been some collaboration between the beekeepers and industry producers in Eastern Canada over lowbush blueberry production. We had a very successful meeting in Moncton about four years ago sponsored by the blueberry growers and the beekeepers in the East, plus the Canadian Pollination Initiative. About 200 people were there, all sharing their ideas and hammering things out. So that's worked out quite well. Those come together, and those are just a couple of examples of what can be done.

Working with the Canola Council of Canada, one might have thought there would be more connection, but there hasn't been. The canola council has had its problems. It lost its CEO to an unexpected heart attack 18 months or so ago and has been in a state of recovering from that tragedy for some time. One would have thought the sunflower growers in Manitoba would be more involved with the beekeepers in Manitoba, but there is a bit of a disconnect there. The Canadian Pollination Initiative has been trying to build those bridges, but we are often seen as pointy headed professors. It's a bit of a bridge to cross, but we have crossed it.

Senator Buth: Thank you for being here this evening.

Dr. Kevan, can you tell us where you are in the funding stage for the five-year events or what year you're in?

Mr. Kevan: We have officially finished our five-year mandate, and we did receive permission from NSERC to go into a sixth year at no cost funding and to be able to carry the money that was not spent, which was not very much, but it still carries over into the sixth year to be able to basically complete things. One of the things we want to complete is working with the royal society on this capping document, as we call it, and a number of other things where various people want to publish their work and get their information out. There are international collaborations that we were not able to fulfill within the fifth year that we have been allowed to carry over into the sixth year.

Senator Buth: Are you applying for another block of funding?

Mr. Kevan: We would very much like to have applied for another block of funding. Unfortunately, we are told that we must have industry buy-in before we start, and the mandates within the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council have not fit agricultural activities in terms of production agriculture to the degree that gives us an immediate segue into applying for money from NSERC. It's a difficult environment, and the result has been that no, we have not been able to continue.

Senator Buth: That was the mandate shift when agriculture used to be one of the science areas, and now it's no longer included? Is that the change in NSERC?

Mr. Kevan: That's part of the change.

Senator Buth: You're nearing the end of this initiative. Can you give me some idea of the successes you have had in terms of the research?

Mr. Kevan: From a practical point of view, our work with the blueberry growers has been very successful in trying to understand how the pollinators and the plants fit together. As Dr. Sheffield pointed out, blueberries require cross- pollination by bees, and we have a greater understanding of how that comes about and what might be some of the blueberry management tools that the blueberry growers would want to embrace in the future to maintain sustainability of their fields and high productivity. That's certainly one of the things we've done.

Another success on the commercial front is coming out of McGill University where a new method of breeding for hybrid seed has been discovered, and that has now just been funded through Dr. Daniel Schoen in biology at McGill University through an I2I grant from NSERC working with industry to commercialize that.

An interesting area that we have been able to promote is the use of managed pollinators for taking biological control agents from the hive out into the field, distributing them amongst the flowers and then protecting the crop plants from a variety of insect pathogens and insect pests. That actually is now commercialized, but it's at a very embryonic stage. There are still places for that to go in order to be more embraced in the agricultural sector. The organic growers, although it is not intrinsically an organic technology, are very interested in it because they tend to be restricted in the tools they can use for crop protection. This is certifiably organic, so there is some interest there as well.

Senator Buth: So you're literally using the bees as the applicators?

Mr. Kevan: That's right. Those are from a practical point of view. As Cory has mentioned, just the catalogue of Canadian bees that we will now have available for people, or butterflies and flower flies, which are more on the academic side, eventually will have practical implications.

Senator Buth: Can you provide us with a list of the research projects that were coordinated through the pollination initiative?

Mr. Kevan: It would be my pleasure to do that. My project manager, Dr. Sarah Bates, is actually compiling that right now. Once it's done, we can certainly share that with you.

Senator Buth: Dr. Sheffield, your comment in terms of the native pollinators and the lowbush blueberries is really interesting. Look at honeybees. I don't know when they were domesticated, but it was thousands of years ago. You commented about the blue orchard bee. Is there a move towards domestication of other types of bees? Could the one you mentioned for the lowbush blueberry be domesticated?

Mr. Sheffield: I think definitely yes. We do have some other success stories, which are not honeybees, like the alfalfa leafcutter. It's not a native species either, but it's certainly a major pollinator not only for alfalfa but also lowbush blueberry.

The blue orchard bee is another species that occurs right across the country, and it's one of the bees that I actually worked on. In North America, this bee has shown a lot of promise. In Europe, similar species have shown a lot of promise. At this stage, we're still in the infancy. I know lots of growers that are already using this, but it hasn't really developed into what I would consider as a commodity, like the alfalfa leafcutter bee.

Dr. Kevan will be forwarding this information, but at last count I think over 100 peer-reviewed publications arose from CANPOLIN in all areas of bee pollination work. One of the really nice things is that it got a lot of the botanists and entomologists working together on projects to give us a bigger picture of pollinated-related issues in Canada that we never had before.

One of the things I worked on was bee taxonomy, which is documenting the species we have here but also developing keys so not only scientists but growers and conservation officers can identify some of these bees. I mentioned that the alfalfa leafcutter bee is an example of success of a non-honeybee species. For leafcutter bees alone, there are 37 other leafcutter bee species in Canada that occur right across the country. Some of them certainly would be what I would consider candidates. We have almost 80 species of osmia bees. These are ones that we can manage, similar to the blue orchard bee. We have the technology to manage them. Some of the ground-nesting bees are a bit harder to manage. I would think the strategy for those bees would be to encourage them. It's looking at the habitat surrounding them.

To give you one example in the lowbush blueberry, we found that there are some blueberry specialist bees that nest normally under stones. We found that in Newfoundland, just by putting clay plant pot bases in the blueberry fields, we can encourage these bees, which are blueberry specialists, to nest there. One of the problems for anyone who has been in a lowbush blueberry field is that these can be very large. What you find is that a lot of the native bees don't necessarily make it into the middle of these. This is a strategy by which you can get bees nested in those habitats and they will forage there. Bumblebees would be another group of bees for which we have a success story in greenhouse situations. We have a native eastern North American species which is used for this.

We're at the stage where we have the knowledge on what species are here, and now it's a case of doing studies on what can we do to encourage them and which species we should look at to potentially manage for pollination.

Senator Merchant: Welcome to both of you, and especially to Mr. Sheffield from Saskatchewan.

When we first started our study, we were concerned about neonicotinoids and how they were affecting the bee population. Can you tell us something about that?

Mr. Kevan: Yes, the situation with neonicotinoid insecticides is a very emotional issue. It has become hotly debated on both sides. It's interesting to go back in history because there was a condition called French mad bee disease that French beekeepers talked about 20 years ago. They noticed that the honeybees they were putting out on to sunflowers that had grown from seeds treated with neonicotinoids were failing to repopulate the hives and the hives were dwindling. They connected those two dots.

The industry hotly denied that. Eventually, it was shown that neonicotinoid residues would appear in nectar and pollen. We didn't really know what it did there, but the French beekeepers would maintain that it upset the behaviour of their bees.

Work done in France on neonicotinoid use in greenhouses found that it interfered with the behaviour of the bumblebees, which we use for pollination there. The recent debate on neonicotinoids has not delved into the behavioural sublethal effects. There is new information coming out of Europe, and it's hotly debated in the literature as to whether the dose rates are right, so we will have to wait until we have a little more information. PMRA is following that.

Then there is the issue of the overt or gross poisonings by neonicotinoids of bees which afflicted beekeepers in Quebec and Ontario in 1912 and 1913, but that's a different route of exposure. It's not through the mature plant after it has flowered; it's at the time of seeding when the neonicotinoids are blowing off the seed as they are being blown into the ground with air seeders. It's quite a strong stream of air used to insert the seed into the ground and it blows the seed treatment off. If it gets into the wind, it goes downwind. That has resulted in immediate poisoning of bees in people's bee yards not just in Quebec and in Ontario, but also in parts of the United States and Europe. That takes place not when pollination is going on for the particular crop of concern, but when the bees are active and out there on adjacent areas of fields. That's gross poisoning versus the two kinds.

Then there are sublethal effects which have been noted whereby the reproductive output of bumblebees and of honeybees has been shown to be jeopardized by doses of neonicotinoid insecticides that are below the lethal limits so the queens stop laying or the larvae don't develop as well. That's being hotly debated in the literature at the moment. It's certainly an ongoing issue and quite a complicated one.

Senator Merchant: I read some literature that will be presented to us by our next panel. I read will what they said here:

If we in Canada are to be competitive, we desperately need the US/Canadian border open as well as free movement within Canada. Neither exists today.

I think they are talking about moving the bees from one field to another.

You presented a different picture about cooperation, but you were not talking about border issues within the provinces. You were saying there is cooperation with the provinces and the federal government.

Mr. Kevan: There are some border issues within the provinces. I crossed the border into Nova Scotia last year and there is a sign right there at the Tantramar Marshessaying do you not bring your bees into Nova Scotia. I do not know if that's eased or whether it's still in effect, but it certainly was last summer.

There have been some issues with bumblebees being transported from eastern North America into the Pacific parts of North America. That was a general agreement amongst the people not to do that because of the different species of bees on the different sides of the Rocky Mountains. It was an issue to do with invasiveness and let's look for something that was ecologically similar we could use in the West. Unfortunately, some of our eastern bees got across the border into Washington or Oregon and then we had disease issues, which are major problems in British Columbia for the native bees there. Those are the transporter issues in Canada. There is also the north-south border issue problem with the United States.

As Dr. Pernal pointed out, we were very fortunate with the collaborative efforts between the beekeepers and the government in closing the border to the import of United States bees at the time when tracheal mites were first diagnosed in the United States. They had devastating effects for several years. The next one was varroa mites and the diseases associated with them and the Africanized bee problem, which have been used as arguments to keep the border closed from the importation of honeybees from one country to another.

I think bumblebees are being imported back and forth across the American border. Koppert produces its bumblebees in the United States and Biobest produces in Leamington, Ontario. Those are the two main companies.

Then of course there is the issue of the importation of bees from other parts of the world, and the scientific community generally frowns upon that. It still sometimes goes ahead or did go ahead.

The alfalfa leafcutter bee was not introduced into North America on purpose; it just happened to come across. But there have been some bees which have been introduced into North America on purpose for their prospects in pollination.

They have not spread, particularly. They are spreading slowly in the northeastern United States but they have been stabilized out.

We have an invasive species of bee which recently came to Canada from the United States. It's a magnificent Megachile sculpturalis bee. It's beautiful to look at and it seems to be establishing itself in southern Ontario at the moment. It is in Quebec already. It's very vagile and came in by accident.

A number of the introduced bees, whether they came in by accident or on purpose, don't seem to have caused major disruptions in the pollinated communities as far as we can determine. We don't have baseline information to get at that. It's something that Mr. Sheffield and I have talked about from time to time in trying to understand those sorts of issues.

Senator Eaton: To wrap a few things up regarding honeybees, bumblebees and leafcutter bees, what you seem to be saying, Dr. Sheffield, and perhaps Dr. Kevan can comment, is that bees are specific to plants and regions of the country. Certain species of bees are specific to certain plants and certain areas of the country.

Mr. Sheffield: It's yes and no. Some species are found right across the country, but we do have other species.

In one of the papers that I have coming out soon, what you find is that different regions might have distinct faunas to that region. For instance, over 300 species of bees are found in the Prairies. A third of those species are not found anywhere else in Canada, so they're specific to that region; but then you have other species which you find right across the country.

Senator Eaton: You've talked about native bees. When you talk about 800 species, you're including native bees?

Mr. Sheffield: Yes, those are individual types. Each species is a different type of bee.

Senator Eaton: Would they be hardier in our climate? Are they more adaptable and less fragile?

Mr. Sheffield: It depends. That's why we were looking at bee diversity from an eco-region perspective. For instance, in the Arctic you find species, and no other species would be able to survive there because of the unique climate. This is also true for the crop situation I mentioned earlier, haskap. It flowers very early and I would consider it a boreal plant. Bumblebee queens, females that emerge early in the spring, seem to be the major pollinator, we're finding. We've seen them flying at 7 or 8 degrees Celsius, where other bee species are not. I think there are different regions.

The island of Newfoundland, for instance, there are certain species of bees that fly when blueberry flowers.

Senator Eaton: Has there been any thought of looking at different species of bees and saying they're better in cold, they're less apt to get mites, they're better against mould or more adaptable? Has there been any kind of interbreeding? Can you do that with a bee? You can't hybridize them, in other words?

Mr. Sheffield: Within honeybees you can select for traits, but some of the work I have done in the past, for instance the alfalfa leafcutter bee, used for alfalfa and lowbush blueberry. Lowbush blueberry flowers almost a month earlier than alfalfa. One study I did that I mentioned in there is that this bee, because it's used so much earlier for lowbush blueberry, is not, I would say, climatically suited for that. There are going to be exceptional years when it's going to be very cold during flowering, and the study I published showed that you could have mortality quite high in there.

In the discussions of native bee species, that's why it's nice to know which regions they are confined to. I think Dr. Kevan alluded to this as well, that when you have a well-known fauna of a certain region, it's always best to try to manage or encourage species from that area because you have specific climatic suitability.

Senator Eaton: Dr. Kevan talked about monoculture and that bees need a good variety of things to eat, like we all do. Are there recommendations you would make to large agricultural projects to encourage native bees? You want to encourage native bees, so leave a strip of native ecosystems along your field? Are there things specifically that we could put in our report that would encourage certain behaviours?

Mr. Kevan: There are, and in fact I have been invited in the last year or so by various conservation authorities in Ontario to talk on that very thing: what conservation authorities can do to encourage pollinators on their land. I have also been talking to farmers and farming groups about what to do to encourage pollinators on their land.

In Europe there are definite set-aside schemes subsidized by the government to make headlands, turn rows and field margins, hedges and windbreaks bee-friendly. That is certainly going on, and we're trying to encourage that here.

In answer to your question about diet, bees are variable in that regard. The commercial honeybee is a generalist and requires a variety of food in order to be healthy. But of course it's on canola fields for a matter of ten days or two weeks of canola bloom, and that's all it's getting for that two weeks; but then it goes somewhere else and gets something else, so it's not so bad.

There are other bees that are extremely restricted in their diet and are important as pollinators. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that 70 per cent of our commercial pumpkin and squash production in the field depends on the hoary squash bee, which is a native bee — is it native? It certainly came up into Canada in pre-Columbian times, so long before Europeans had settled. It had come up with the ``three sisters'' agriculture of the indigenous people, and it is now established in southern Ontario, widely spread. It's into Quebec, and it's an important component of that cropping system. It feeds only on the pollen of squash and pumpkin, so it's a highly restricted diet. It's a very interesting bee. There are some interesting sociological lessons from it too.

Senator Eaton: Can squashes and pumpkins be pollinated by another bee?

Mr. Kevan: Yes, they can be pollinated by bumblebees and honeybees, and the growers will often use those supplementary pollination systems.

Mr. Sheffield: To address the question, one of the studies that we've done that has proven successful is with the blue orchard bee within orchard systems. This bee's life cycle is over four to six weeks, where apple flowers for about 10 days. We did a research project, collaborating with growers, where in a preliminary study we found that these bees also liked another plant that flowered after apple, so we worked with growers to plant these additional plants adjacent to their apple orchards. Just by having that combination of apple and these other plants, we were able to more than double the number of eggs laid by the female.

If you consider agricultural landscapes, when they flower there's lots of food, but after they finish flowering there's not a lot of food for bees. It's one of the different strategies of managing these types of bees, which differ from the honeybees.

As Dr. Kevan mentioned, honeybees you can put into a crop when it's flowering and then take them out and move them someplace else. You don't have those same options with the other species of bee. So in order to maximize their egg-laying potential and their population size by having additional food plants, you can achieve that.

Senator Tardif: I want to begin by paying tribute to your outstanding research achievements and publications in the field of pollination and pollinators and bee diversity in Canada. Your work is essential to help us understand the importance of bees for agriculture and for food security in Canada, as well as for our economy, as you've mentioned.

You have both stressed the importance of public research development and innovation in your presentations. How would you assess the research capacity and infrastructure that exists presently in Canada with regard to pollination and pollinators?

Mr. Sheffield: I can address that first. I think this Canadian Pollination Initiative was a landmark event in doing this because it not only allowed us to recognize where the gaps were in our knowledge, but one of its main achievements was in the training of highly qualified people to address these types of issues in the future.

Mr. Kevan can talk more on this, but I think we are probably in a better position to address this pollination crisis than we would have been if not for the Canadian Pollination Initiative. There are still some gaps, but I think with the knowledge — to not talk about honeybees for a moment — that we have gained in learning about native pollinators and their contributions is certainly greater than it was in the past. We are in pretty good shape.

Mr. Kevan: We are in much better shape than we were.

From the perspective of the Scientific Director of the Canadian Pollination Initiative, I would like to pat myself on the back, I suppose, and say that we are being looked at by the world for having done something truly remarkable in bringing our scientific community together for this particular problem. That legacy is not going to fold up now that the Canadian Pollination Initiative is coming to an end. We are in a much better position from the point of view of infrastructure.

From the point of view of where we are within the government infrastructure, we are not in a very good position. As Dr. Pernal pointed out, there used to be three bee biologists at Beaver Lodge, another couple at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa, and others in Lethbridge and other places across Canada. Most of those positions evaporated a number of years ago. Certainly there are some problems in providing the support to beekeepers and others with that interest in supplementing or boosting their crop yields. They do not have many people to go to anymore within government institutions.

Senator Tardif: How many scientists might be interested in this field of research across Canada?

Mr. Kevan: If you were to take all the scientists who are presently interested in it, plus all the graduate students, I would suggest it would not be difficult to assemble 200 to 250 people. Their interests would not be necessarily or primarily in pollination but at least partially in pollination.

Senator Tardif: I will leave it at that for now.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Thank you for your presentations. I would like to ask Dr. Kevan a question. What can you tell beekeepers whose bees are going to wake up in a few months and who will lose 50 per cent of their bees annually? What will you tell them on April 1 or May 1, with all the research you have done? What can you tell a beekeeper whose principal income is from bees?

Mr. Kevan: It is difficult.

Senator Maltais: Not for you, but it is for me.

[English]

Mr. Kevan: It's difficult to know what to tell a beekeeper. One can be sympathetic and try to be helpful, but the circumstances are such that the research community has not been able to address the issues of overwintering to a great extent.

Our bee-breeding programs in the past were a lot stronger. In fact, a Canadian received the Order of Canada for his bee-breeding program in Beaver Lodge some years ago. We have the capacity and the capability to do that, but there has not been enough investment in what might progress from that.

Dr. Pernal brought up some of the issues with diet and problems with overwintering. It is interesting that he talked about feeding pollen supplements, particularly in the spring of the year, in order to boost the strength of the colonies at a time when they could not go out to forage as it was too cold. We have built technology on this front in Canada, but it tends not to be particularly well used in some instances by the Canadian beekeeping community. The Canadian beekeeping community is rather conservative in this respect. Similarly, there has been the development of new prospects for medicaments for the health of bees but, again, it has been difficult to get them into the commercial sector primarily because the agri-chemical industries see this as competitive.

It is difficult to know how to advise an individual beekeeper and to be able to say what should be done. The problem we are encountering in Canada is not the same as it is in the United States. The beekeepers in Canada treat their bees with more respect than American commercial beekeepers do, and the winters here are problematic. On top of that, there are all these other stresses affecting them. It is a multifactorial problem that requires new ways of thinking about a solution. That requires researchers and beekeepers to work closely together. If we can do that, we might be able to make some progress.

Going back to your initial question, senator, what do I say when I talk to my friend Jim Coneybeare or to the big beekeeper down in Niagara about their problems? We have lots to talk about.

[Translation]

Senator Maltais: Basically, it is a little like medicine; the patient may die, or the patient may live. So all I can tell beekeepers is to be hopeful. That is all I have to say. Thank you.

Mr. Kevan: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Senator Robichaud had a supplementary question.

Senator Robichaud: Have you compared the health of honey-producing bee colonies and native species? Are the two species affected in the same way by the diseases that are killing them?

[English]

Mr. Kevan: The Western honeybee, the introduced species that we commercially produce for the beekeeping industry used extensively for pollination, is not a native species. Wild colonies have established themselves in hollow trees and people's houses and various other places. Generally speaking nowadays, those feral colonies do not live very long, two or three years; and then they would be overtaken with the same diseases and problems that the beekeepers find in their colonies. That is that issue.

When we get to the other bees, and Mr. Sheffield may be able to comment, we know very little about the types of diseases that afflict them. We understand leaf-cutting bees to a greater extent. One of the reasons there is an agreement to not ship bees from southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan north is the absence of leaf-cutting bee diseases in the northern parts of the province rather than in the southern parts of the province, which is important for the export of the leaf-cutting bees to the United States in that particular market. We know a bit about bumblebee pathology as well.

Perhaps Mr. Sheffield wants to talk about the rest of the huge assemblage of bees.

Mr. Sheffield: On your comment that we know little about the other species of bees because the majority are wild, we do not know where they nest. We can make a general statement that they are in the ground, but we know there are at least four species of bumblebee in Canada.

My work with looking at species at risk in Canada through COSEWIC — the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada — is that we suspect there are some pathogens linked to their declines. From my perspective, it seems that the research is saying that it is not as simple as that. That is probably one of many factors affecting them, similar to honeybees.

I don't know if that answers your question, but most of the native bees are not afflicted by the same types of diseases affecting honeybees, but we know little enough about them that we can't say what kind of disease factors are affecting them. The leafcutter bee industry is one where, because it has developed at such a large scale, we do know that a set of unique diseases would affect those as well, for which there are management schemes.

Senator Robichaud: I asked the question because I read in some of the notes that you indicated to us that pollination is done mostly, or to a greater extent than we believe, by the local bees.

Mr. Sheffield: That's correct.

Senator Robichaud: Yet you say that we know very little about those bees.

Mr. Sheffield: We know the basic rules of bees. We do know that there is a common set of things that all bees need. Nesting sites would be one, and abundant food plants for them. Typically, we cannot really assess their numbers. We can go out and count them in a field situation, but from year to year it is hard to predict how many of these wild bees will be there. We do know that when we have native habitat adjacent to our agricultural systems, we typically have more of these bees there. We know factors that we can use to promote the bees, but not the factors that would cause mortality from year to year if we have not been able to study the biology of these bees. The honeybee is probably, after humans, one of the most studied species on earth. We know so much about them, but we are finding all the time that there is still lots that we don't know. For the native pollinator species, I would say there is still lots more. Those are the things that we have to start to address when we ask what we can do for this bee to make it a better pollinator for us.

[Translation]

The Chair: Senator Dagenais will ask the last question.

Senator Dagenais: Since I am the last one to ask questions, I hope they will not be too redundant. First, I would like to thank our witnesses.

Mr. Sheffield, you pointed out that there has been a decrease in bee colonies. What do you think the potential solutions are that could promote and preserve bee species to meet our potentially problematic future needs?

[English]

Mr. Sheffield: I will speak from the perspective of wild bees, but I will also mention that some of the things we can do to help encourage native bee species in Canada will also be helpful for honeybees. I think we have to start looking at how we actually grow crops. We have to look at the way we approach agriculture a bit differently because bees do provide a vital ecological service, that is, pollination, which is not only needed by the crops but some of the surrounding plants.

It is knowledge of the requirements of these bees. I mentioned food plants would be one. If we realize that we want to encourage native bees within these habitats, we have to say that the apple crop system, as an example, is providing lots of food for these native bees, but what are they going to feed on afterwards? We have to look at things. These studies have been done not only in Canada but in Europe as well. By having hedgerows that we leave with native vegetation that these bees also need, we find that we are able to increase these numbers. One of the major things affecting all of the pollinators, including honeybees, is lack of food sources within agricultural systems.

On some of the graphs that I showed you, the areas where bees are most diverse in Canada correspond not only to areas where most of our food is grown but some of the habitat that is the most intensely managed in Canada. In order to grow crops, we often do things that are not necessarily good for native bees. It is trying to find that balance of what we can do so we can get the full benefits, but the bees can also be there as well.

Food plants is one, and I can give an example of another. The leafcutter bee is a prime example of this. These bees will nest in holes in wood and, if you put a nesting box site within any habitat, you will encourage these bees to nest there. It has been successful in apple orchard systems as well.

The Chair: Thank you, witnesses, for sharing your knowledge with us. If you have any additional information you want to share with the committee, please do it through the clerk.

Senators, the second panel is comprised of Chris Cutler, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Dalhousie University; and from Oxford Frozen Foods Limited we have David Hoffman, Co-Chief Executive Officer.

To you, Mr. Hoffman, it is a pleasure to see you again and to see you here at our committee. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the outstanding visit we had at Oxford Frozen Foods for the study on innovation and research in agriculture. There is no doubt the feeling was that you are leaders in the industry.

Joining Mr. Hoffman, we also have John Hamilton, Manager of Bee Operations for Oxford Frozen Foods Limited.

I have been informed that the first presenter will be Mr. Cutler, to be followed by Mr. Hoffman.

Mr. Cutler, would you please make you presentation.

Chris Cutler, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Dalhousie University: Thank you, members of the committee. It is a pleasure to be here today. As you heard, I am an associate professor at Dalhousie University on the agricultural campus in Truro, Nova Scotia. I am in the Department of Environmental Sciences. My specialty area is entomology. I do a lot of work with insects, in particular in ecotoxicology. I look at the effects of pesticides on insects, both pests and beneficials, including bees, assessing the toxicity hazard and risk of pesticides to bees in agricultural settings. That includes groups like the neonicotinoid insecticides, which I am sure you are aware of. I know you have heard from a lot of members before me on the importance of bees, so I will be quite brief with my comments.

You are aware by now, I'm sure, that domestic and wild bees are incredibly important, both in natural and agricultural systems. Most angiosperms, or flowering plants, in nature would not be able to reproduce without pollination.

A lot of the crops we eat, approximately a third of the foods that we eat, are attributed to bee pollination. Most of that is from the honeybees. Honeybees are undoubtedly the most important pollinator of crops, constituting about $1 billion in Canada, at least tenfold that in the U.S. and many times that globally. It is also important, of course, for honey production and other products, but wild bees also play an important role in the pollination of many crops.

In terms of the status, as we have already heard, globally and nationally, bees are under a lot of stress. Honeybees face mounting pressures from diseases and parasites. Most of these are introduced. Things like varroa mite, Nosema ceranae, small hive beetle are all introduced pests, but these pressures are faced by native bees as well.

Bee problems have been around for a while. We have known about issues with honeybees for decades. We have known about declines in bumblebee populations for decades as well. That is not to belittle the problem we have right now, of course. The problem is getting worse and seems to be approaching a crescendo, but it is a problem we've been aware of for a long time.

In terms of the factors that affect bees, again, you have heard about a lot of these before. For wild species, habitat destruction is the primary problem. For biodiversity, whether it is a polar bear in the Arctic or a frog in the Amazon or a bee, taking those natural landscapes and changing them to urban environments and agricultural landscapes can be quite stressful for bees in eliminating food and nesting sites.

As Mr. Sheffield alluded to as well, honeybees need a lot of those same things. They need a variety of foods in their diet. That is quite important to them.

Diseases and parasites, as I have already mentioned, are a problem for honeybees and native bees. I won't say too much about the weather, but it causes havoc for us and for bees as well. Long, cold winters and cool, wet springs are a big problem for beekeepers.

The area I am most familiar with is pesticides. Pesticides are certainly a stressor for bees. There are different types of pesticides. There are pesticides that beekeepers themselves have to use to control parasites, like mites, that they put directly into the hive. We try to be selective with these and use things that will target the mite and not the bee, which can be a challenge. There are also pesticides that farmers have to use for crop protection, and bees can be exposed to those in any number of ways.

There are differences in toxicity of different pesticides. When assessing the hazard and risk of a pesticide to any organism, there are a number of factors you need to consider. One is toxicity, but the other factor that is really important is the exposure that occurs. You can have a very toxic substance right here, and if I am not exposed to it, there is no hazard.

The other factor is the dose. There are doses of substances that are harmful and there are doses of substances that are not harmful. There are plenty of things that we subject ourselves to that are not harmful because the dose is too low, but we can overdose on them.

The other thing is the probability of exposure. That is where the term ``risk'' comes into play. It is not only the toxicity and the exposure concentration, but what is the probability that an organism like a bee will be exposed to that? All of those things need to be considered when assessing the risk of a substance to bees.

With that, I will conclude. Thank you again for the invitation to be here, and I commend you for discussing this important topic.

The Chair: Thank you, doctor.

We will now move on to Mr. Hoffman.

David Hoffman, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Oxford Frozen Foods Limited: Thank you for inviting me and Jack Hamilton to appear before the committee today.

I will talk primarily about honeybees and the economic importance of honeybees in the production of wild blueberries. There are obviously health issues on bees, which have been discussed before the committee. These are important issues and a lot of research has been done there.

We have a lot of issues with the production of agricultural crops generally. We deal with those through research and through finding solutions, and I think the same can be said of honeybees.

With me today is Jack Hamilton, who is a beekeeper. He is one of the top beekeepers in the country. He manages about 12,000 to 15,000 hives of bees, and he will be happy to answer any questions on the actual management of beehives.

As an introduction, the honeybee is absolutely critical to the production of wild blueberries. Other bees are used, certainly bumblebees on an occasional basis, and they are effective but in a small way. You cannot get enough bumblebees into a blueberry field to make a significant difference.

You've heard mention of leafcutter bees. They can also be effective, but they tend to require warmer temperatures, and there are many seasons when the blueberry fields are being pollinated and the temperatures just simply aren't warm enough for the leafcutter bees to be active. So they are not a reliable and, in some years, not an effective method of pollination.

When it comes to pollination of wild blueberries, honeybees are the answer, and the research has proven that to be the case.

Wild blueberry fields are a monoculture. They can be very large. Think about a prairie field, large stretches of blueberry fields. The native pollinators are extremely effective around the edges, so to get into the middle of the field, we need a concentration of honeybees.

Recent research has shown that blueberry fields can have up to 100 million blossoms per acre. I want you to picture 100 million blossoms per acre, and those all need multiple visits from a pollinator to yield a good crop. So it's a huge task, and the native pollinators simply are not up to it. They can be quite effective in one- and two-acre fields where they are close to the whole field, but large fields, they simply can't do the job. So blueberry growers generally — and it's becoming increasingly well accepted — are using a lot of honeybee hives to pollinate the crop.

In order for Canadian wild blueberry growers to be competitive, they have to do this and, in fact, the supply of honeybees is not adequate today. This will be part of my discussion later.

If I may, I'm going to take you quickly through a presentation that I had circulated. Firstly, I'll talk a little bit about our own wild blueberry business, and then the importance of honeybees for wild blueberry pollination, our apiary operations within the company, the need for honeybees, border and non-tariff barriers which are in the way of the free movement of bees, and then a couple of concluding remarks.

The wild blueberry operation within the company, we're a large grower of wild blueberries. We're the largest in the world. We also process. We're a fully vertically integrated company, and we handle over 100 million-pounds of blueberries a year.

We have our own farms, but in addition, we are also providing an outlet and a market for other wild blueberry growers, and we service up to 1,000 individual farmers in the Maritime provinces.

We have farm operations in the State of Maine where we have about 12,000 acres of wild blueberry fields of our own. In Nova Scotia, we have about 5,000 acres, and in New Brunswick, today we have about 7,000 or 8,000 acres which are productive and another 15,000 which will come into production over the next few years.

Senator Robichaud: You're also building a plant.

Mr. Hoffman: Yes. This is a big project in the Acadian Peninsula, which we announced recently, and that we think will create a lot of activity in that part of the province which is in great need of that.

One of the challenges with wild blueberry production is that it is a monoculture, large fields, and there is very little other bee forage available.

Native pollinators are around the edge of the fields, but they really can't do the full pollination job that is required. Research shows that native insects, bumblebees and leafcutter bees, can be effective pollinators individually, but they're not able to provide the pollination effort that is needed for wild blueberries. The only really viable pollinator is the honeybee.

A single beehive contains tens of thousands of potential pollinators. They can be moved into position in the field, they can be moved around the field, and they can be moved from field to field. So they are very effective, and commercial beekeepers are able to do this.

With regard to our own apiary operation, we are one of the larger beekeepers in Canada. We operate apiaries in Nova Scotia where we have about 12,000 hives. We have an apiary in New Brunswick where we have 2,500 hives, and we are in the process of trying to set up an apiary in southern Ontario with 5,000 hives, with the objective of adding another 5,000 hives next year. All of this is purely to support our wild blueberry business. It's not to produce honey — honey is a by-product — but it's to produce wild blueberries.

The research and practical experience, the rule of thumb, is that every additional hive of bees put into a blueberry field will produce an extra thousand pounds of wild blueberry production, so there is a direct correlation between yields and honeybees.

Profitable farming just cannot be achieved without good yields, and it cannot be sustained. Honeybees are essential for long-term sustainability and profitability in wild blueberry farming operations.

The use of honeybees in Maine is significantly advanced over what we're able to achieve in the Maritimes. In Maine, yields are double or triple those of our Canadian farms. Just think about the cost implication of that, where they have double and triple the yields of wild blueberries as compared to what we have in Canada. It's a significant difference.

On our Maine farm alone, we use about 40,000 hives of honeybees. It's a 12,000-acre farm. To put it into perspective, it's a biennial crop, so it only crops every second year. We're harvesting about 6,000 acres per year. There are seven to eight hives per acre, and that's the kind of concentration that we look for and need in order to achieve these good yields in Maine.

Where do the bees come from? Not many of them, if any, live in Maine. They come from all over the United States. They overwinter in the south. They go to California where they pollinate the almond crop. They pollinate other crops. So there are migrant beekeepers whose lives are to move bees from one crop to the next, and they come to Maine for about three weeks to pollinate the wild blueberry crop.

I understand there are about 2.5 million hives of bees in the United States, and about 1.5 million go to California for this very important pollination. The wild blueberry industry in Maine uses probably about 60,000 to 70,000 hives in total.

To put that into perspective, in the whole of the United Kingdom there are about 60,000 to 70,000 hives of bees, so that gives a feeling of the intensity of the pollination effort in the wild blueberry fields of Maine.

In Canada, things are done differently. We have regulations that prevent the free movement of bees. We have barriers, and it creates inefficiencies.

In Eastern Canada today, our total farm operations are approximately 15,000 acres of our own fields. As I said, there are another 15,000 which are under development, just getting started.

We harvest about half of those each year, 7,500 acres. If we were to use the seven or eight hives an acre which we need, we would need 60,000 hives for our Canadian farms today. That's for our own land. We also supply bees wherever we can to our growers who need tens of thousands more. So it is a large number of bees and beehives that are needed to effectively pollinate the blueberry crop.

This is a long way away from the 15,000 hives that we have today or the 25,000 hives that we have tomorrow. Even when we look to rent hives from local beekeepers, and we are able to move some in from Ontario today, we still only have another 10,000 hives, so we are way short of what we need.

There is very little prospect of this changing; so the bees are simply not available, and there are barriers to moving them. Remember that this is where we have half to one third of the yields of our competitors in Maine.

In the future, we will need twice as many hives. There is really no prospect as to where those will come from. The shortfalls that we experience today and the competitive disadvantage that we are working with are likely to continue; so the U.S. and interprovincial borders and barriers.

If we are to be competitive in Canada, we need to find a solution to this. We desperately need to find a way to open the borders, both within the country and between the U.S. and Canada.

As one of the previous speakers said, there is a bee border between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I live about 20 miles away from the sign which says no bees moving into Nova Scotia. It really does exist; it still exists today. These are the kind of barriers that we live with.

Now, we have a temporary dispensation to move bees into Nova Scotia from Ontario for a short period during the pollination season of wild blueberries. This has only been in place for the last two years, and we hope it will be continued. We can't take bees to Prince Edward Island and then take them to New Brunswick and then bring them back to Nova Scotia. We just can't do that. Barriers are there that will prevent that movement of bees. I know it doesn't sound possible, but that in fact is the case.

So we don't have freedom of movement. There are some provinces, like Saskatchewan, where there is less free movement. Ontario is not all free movement. So it's a very difficult environment to think about how we are going to procure the honeybees needed to pollinate the wild blueberry crop from Canada.

If the U.S. border were open, it would make a considerable difference. We could bring the bees from Florida where they would be overwintering, possibly coming from California where they have pollinated the almond crop, bring them to Maine, where they would work the blueberry fields — it's two weeks earlier in Maine — and bring them through to Nova Scotia, where they work the blueberry fields, and then onto the Acadian Peninsula — by now they would be bilingual — and the benefits would be just considerable.

First of all, the bees would arrive in Canada at full strength, already strong from having worked in an agricultural setting, and a strong hive is considerably more effective at pollinating than a weak hive.

The synergies and cost savings would be tremendous, so it would make the industry more competitive.

The ability to move bees into the wild production areas and then to leave once the pollination services have been delivered would also allow the local beekeepers and native pollinators to have greater access to the bee pasture for the rest of the year. So bringing bees in and taking them out is actually a very helpful thing for local pollinators and beekeepers. It reduces the competition for most of the year over that bee pasture.

It really isn't natural to overwinter these honeybees in the Maritimes. It's not the right climate; it's a very difficult place to grow bees and to manage them. We are really fighting nature with high mortality rates and creating a considerable disadvantage with our competitors.

There is a fifth advantage, which I didn't put on my sheet here, but it would allow our beekeeper to spend his winters in Florida, which I think he would appreciate.

So allowing honeybees to cross the U.S.-Canadian border would make honeybees from the U.S. available to the whole industry.

Obviously, the disease infestation discussion that's ongoing, and I don't want to dismiss that lightly; it is an important discussion. We do believe ultimately that it's an unofficial trade barrier.

We think these issues can be managed, and the research is ongoing to help with that. Free movement to the United States, which happens from one side of the country to the other, has not contributed to the disease challenge. We support ongoing research into honeybee diseases. We think that free movement can still be achieved with that effort ongoing.

In conclusion, if Canadian farm products are limited by provincial barriers, and they are in need of pollination, and if the U.S. border is kept closed, then we don't think that ultimately our farmers can be competitive.

Almost 90 per cent of our wild blueberry crop is exported throughout the world. It's exported to the United States where it competes with the U.S. product. It's exported to the Far East where it again competes with the U.S. product.

The future growth and competitiveness of the wild blueberry industry is intricately tied to the access to honeybees and their ability to pollinate the crop. We don't think the status quo is sufficient today. It won't be sufficient in the future. We need borders that are open to bees.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Hoffman.

Senator Mercer: Thank you all for being here. I do appreciate the information you have brought forward.

Mr. Hoffman, you represent the largest producer of blueberries in Canada, and so your opinion is respected. This idea of opening the U.S. border is an important one, but also opening the New Brunswick border for perhaps a Maritime bee free-trade zone that we could develop, which makes a lot more sense.

Other than competitiveness, there is a concern about moving bees from Atlantic Canada to Florida. While they are there and doing their work, is there a risk that they may be exposed to diseases in that part of the world and could bring them back and infect our hives? Perhaps Dr. Cutler could comment as well

Mr. Hoffman: I think that there are bee inspections that take place which can assure that the disease is not brought back, if you like.

John Hamilton, Manager of Bee Operations, Oxford Frozen Foods Limited: The way we are now, when we cross provincial borders, our beehives are inspected for diseases and parasites before they are transported, so I think you would just continue with your inspection process.

Senator Mercer: Another bureaucracy that gets in the way of it all.

Dr. Cutler, you talked about the stress on bees and pesticides, diseases and insecticides. If you had one recommendation of a pesticide or an insecticide that we should be removing from the system to protect the health of bees, what would it be?

Mr. Cutler: That's, I guess, a touchy subject.

Senator Mercer: That's why I asked it.

Mr. Cutler: I'm not going to say what I would remove. A number of older chemistries developed decades ago are highly toxic to bees, and indeed the PMRA and the EPA and nationally the EU are moving to remove those pesticides.

With the one that's used predominantly now, in the highest acreage, the neonicotinoid insecticides that are not used in lowbush blueberry — there is one neonicotinoid used in lowbush blueberry, but it has relatively low toxicity compared to other neonicotinoids, and I don't think it's a big issue for beekeepers or blueberry growers. Certain mitigation measures can be undertaken to avoid the risk.

I guess if it's a loaded question, you're thinking about the neonicotinoids. My opinion is probably not a popular one: I don't see them as being a huge risk to pollinators, and it's simply because I don't see the evidence.

Certainly there are risks that neonicotinoid insecticides pose during corn planting. This dust issue where the talc degrades the seed coating and the exhaust from the planter gets the dust out into the environment, that can directly land on bees or the forage that bees may go to. That is certainly something that needs to be taken care. But with regard to the dietary exposure problem where we have tens of thousands of hectares of canola and corn grown with neonicotinoids on which bees forage, I haven't seen any evidence that such is a cause of widespread bee declines. I can give you several reasons for that. For the sake of time, I won't right now; however, if you would like me to, I can.

Senator Buth: To follow up on Senator Mercer's questions, your comment that we can just inspect the colonies because they are inspected now anyway is interesting because we have heard from CFIA that the reason they're restricting bees coming into Canada from California, and the reason they're only allowing queens in, is because they can actually inspect the queens.

The other reason we have been given in terms of not opening the border to the U.S. is that the products used to control the mites — the mites in the U.S. are developing resistance. If you bring them into Canada, you lose the products that are important for beekeepers in Canada. You can't inspect or see that.

How do you balance that with trying to protect what's in Canada versus having an open border?

Mr. Hamilton: I didn't mean to belittle the idea that you cannot inspect them, but my challenge is that we can put treatments into the hives that can control most of these pests to the point where we're in about the same situation in Canada as they are in the States.

We can manage the hives in a way that the resistance is going to be coming into Canada anyways, and we need to put more money into research to develop more products.

The challenge is that I don't believe we are grabbing new products. There are other new products out there, but we have to get them into the certification process so that we have more than one at a time. Down in the States, and it is the same in Canada, each treatment that we have had — Apistan, and then we had fluvalinate, and now we've got Apivar. We had one product. That was the only product we had to use, so we used it until it ran out.

Now we're on Apivar, and what's the next chemical? I believe we have to put more emphasis on research so that we have more chemicals available. In other parts of the world, they have those chemicals. We just have to get that certification done in Canada and the United States so we can use them legally.

Senator Buth: So part of this is management in terms of product accessibility for multiple products.

Mr. Hamilton: Yes.

Senator Buth: That's helpful.

Mr. Cutler, I come from an entomology background, so your comments about toxicity and exposure are important. I would like you to spend a few minutes talking more about that because the information we're getting is very polarized; as people have said, it's very emotional. People are saying all the neonicotinoids are a problem. Then we're hearing from other people that it's an Ontario and Quebec problem, and it's specific to that application. Can you talk more about exposure and toxicity and how you would look at it as an issue?

Mr. Cutler: Besides the insecticide work, I do a lot of work on biological control, biopesticides and using natural enemies for pest control. I'm not a chemical guy. I understand their importance, but I work in other areas as well.

To make a comment on the neonicotinoids, when they were first introduced in the mid-1990s, they were considered a great thing by beekeepers and people involved in pest management; they had much lower toxicity to mammals. They attack a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, which is in much higher prevalence in insects than mammals, so they have relatively low toxicity to mammals. So it's a great thing for applicators and non-target species.

The amount of neonicotinoids applied is also much lower in terms of exposures in the environment. We did a study on canola this past year, and the amount of insecticide applied on one of these seeds is miniscule. If you do the math, at a maximum application rate on the seed in a high seeding rate, it works out to about 18 grams of active ingredient per hectare. That's like taking half an ounce of whisky and spreading it over a hectare. With corn, it works out to about 90 grams of active ingredient per hectare.

These are small amounts as opposed to some of the old organophosphorus insecticides where you are applying over a kilo of active ingredient per hectare multiple times per year. That has to be sprayed. That has a much broader toxicity to many different organisms, including humans, and it has to be applied multiple times.

There are advantages to using these products. I look at it from a farmer perspective and an environmental toxicology perspective.

With exposure, there are different tiers we use when we do risk assessments. The first tier is to take a bee in a lab and expose it to a pesticide or feed it directly. Inevitable, you will kill bees with these products. They are highly toxic; that has never been debated.

What is debated is whether they pose an unacceptable risk. Again, this is separate from the dust issue, which is separate and important and needs to be taken care of. But if you look at the concentrations of these chemicals that exist in the nectar and in the pollen onto which the bees will forage, collect and bring back, it's higher in canola. It's in the order of the ninety-fifth percentile concentration, which means that the concentration would be below that 95 per cent of the time. It's about three parts per billion. In nectar, it's about one part per billion.

In studies where you take honeybees in field cages and expose them to these doses, we have another endpoint we call the ``no observable effects'' concentration. This is a concentration below which you can't see anything happening to the bee; it behaves normally. The ``no observable effects'' concentration is about 20 parts per billion, so this is a concentration that causes an effect. In the field, we are seeing concentrations of a maximum of three, so there is a considerable margin of safety there. Just like you and I can take one or two Tylenol, fine; take a bottle, dead. So the exposure concentration is very important.

Indeed, when you look at canola grown on the Prairies, it has been grown with neonicotinoids for 15 years now. Beekeepers intentionally put their bees next to canola fields grown with neonicotinoids, and they do fine.

The other thing with exposure is the probability of actual exposure. We did an experiment this summer with bumblebees and corn. You put them right there — there is neonicotinoid in the corn pollen — and they do not even go to the corn. They don't like the corn. They will go somewhere else. Even though the poison is there, they are not exposed to it.

Questions of toxicity exposure concentrations in the field and the actual probability of exposure all need to be considered when you are doing these types of risk assessments.

Senator Buth: Thank you. That is very helpful.

Senator Eaton: You were talking about the dust. Is it the way the corn is sewn? If we changed the way the corn is sewn, would that help?

Mr. Cutler: Yes, absolutely. There are questions about whether we should be using as much neonicotinoid on seeds, these prophylactic treatments. Probably not. That is a different issue in terms of whether or not we need them for pest management.

Senator Eaton: But if we did not have the dust, if there were some way —

Mr. Cutler: If we could minimize the amount of dust exhaust going out there and direct it down into the soil, that would alleviate a lot of the problem because you're eliminating the exposure.

Senator Tardif: Mr. Hoffman, you indicated that the lack of free movement of bees across provincial borders and across the U.S. border is causing problems. If national standards for bee management practices were adopted, do you think that would reduce the risk of parasites and pathogens being transported?

Mr. Hoffman: By national standards —

Senator Tardif: I understand that there are no national standards in Canada for bee management.

Mr. Hoffman: I think that is right. Beekeepers are very much left to their own devices to determine how they want to manage their bees. A lot of beekeepers are hobby beekeepers, so they might have one, three or five hives. It is difficult to regulate. I think if there were standards, certainly that would help, there's no question.

Senator Tardif: Mr. Cutler, do you have an opinion on that?

Mr. Cutler: I am probably not the best person to ask. I don't deal with honeybees per se and cross-border issues, so I think I will defer on that question.

Senator Buth: As a supplementary to that, it is interesting that you want open borders —

Senator Tardif: That's right. That is what I was getting at.

Senator Buth: — and you want freedom, essentially. So why would you want a national strategy in terms of bee management? You are very entrepreneurial, so I was surprised by your remark that we should have a national strategy on bee management.

Mr. Hoffman: I think one of the challenges is this fear of disease moving from one place to another. I think if there is a standard that beekeepers are asked or required to maintain, it makes it a lot easier to have this free movement of bees. I think it is the other side of it; it is actually complementary rather than being in conflict.

Senator Buth: Unless a new disease comes in and you want to restrict it, then you need the management tools to slow its spread.

Mr. Hoffman: Right. I think if a new disease comes in, there will clearly be a need to isolate that.

Senator Buth: Thank you.

[Translation]

Senator Dagenais: Thank you to our three witnesses. You mentioned that high mortality among bees usually happens in the winter, I believe. Should they perhaps be sent to Florida? Even senators go to Florida sometimes, which helps them recharge.

My question is for Mr. Hamilton. A healthy queen often continues to produce eggs. However, with mortality, there will not be enough worker bees to continue to gather nectar and pollen and guarantee what we call the brood. Can you ensure that a healthy queen that continues to produce eggs still has enough worker bees to keep her healthy?

[English]

Mr. Hamilton: A young healthy queen usually has enough pheromones or scent to maintain those young worker bees to stay with her. The real challenge is to keep a young queen in your hive.

In our operation, we would raise probably about 10,000 new queens every year. We are one of the few large queen producers in Canada. We do that because we are not making a honey crop. Basically, we pollinate blueberries and then we try to expand our operation. By doing that, by having those young, vigorous queens come through the winter, it is a much better solution.

In Nova Scotia, we are not allowed to bring in continental U.S. queens. It is actually one of the issues up for discussion in Nova Scotia right now. The quality of the Australian and New Zealand queens is not as good as the continental U.S. queens; it never has been. They have a better breeding operation down in the United States.

The other side is that the queens they are catching in Australia and New Zealand are going into late fall. We are pulling them out of late fall and a week later sticking them into spring. They have not had a chance to adjust to that weather issue, and they just don't seem to have the ability to last.

Right now, we are planning on bringing in 5,000 packages from Australia to hive in Ontario. Our goal this summer will be to replace every one of those queens so that we can have a young, vigorous queen to go into next year.

Senator Robichaud: Mr. Hamilton, if we were to open the borders and you could move the bees from Florida or California to New Brunswick, how would that affect the bee operation in New Brunswick? Would they just go out of business because they would not be needed?

Mr. Hamilton: Right up until this point in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick, I believe, Oxford Frozen Foods Limited or Brag's — all the hives have been spoken for. I don't think that will change. If a local producer is shipping bees to a local grower, they will still have a synergy to keep doing business together. I don't think it will put anybody out of business.

The beauty of it is all those numbers will go up. They will pollinate the blueberries and then leave, much like we do on P.E.I. We now haul our bees to P.E.I. under permit and then they return to Nova Scotia under permit, but we are not allowed to stay for the honey crop because we can make a honey crop on P.E.I. We leave the Island right after blueberry bloom, and that allows the local beekeepers to make a honey crop. We are doing that now, and we are still renting all the hives we can rent locally.

Senator Robichaud: So there would still have to be provincial barriers to keep this large number of bees from going to the Island?

Mr. Hamilton: Well, that is not what we are suggesting, no.

Senator Robichaud: You're suggesting open borders?

Mr. Hamilton: Open borders, yes. Really, the intent would not be for them to stay there afterwards to make the honey crop.

I believe a lot of the hives that go to Maine then go back to New York State. A honey crop is made in the woods in New York State and that's where a lot of the hives return.

Senator Robichaud: If you were able to bring all those from Maine to pollinate in Nova Scotia, and then in New Brunswick because the seasons are a bit different, how many more blueberries would be produced in New Brunswick? There would be a lot more, would there not?

Mr. Hoffman: Most years the yields would be significantly better. The economic benefit would be considerable.

Senator Robichaud: Would the market be able to absorb this production?

Mr. Hoffman: I think the blueberry market has grown as we've grown the crops. Over the last 30 years, the wild blueberry crop throughout North America has grown from around 40 million pounds a year to roughly 240 million pounds. The market has grown at the same pace. It hasn't been quite in a straight line; it has not been exactly the same. However, as we've been able to grow more wild blueberries over time, we've been able to find the markets to sell them.

I think the marketing issue is one we can solve. The biggest challenge is growing the wild blueberries and growing them efficiently.

Senator Robichaud: How would that affect local producers on the Acadian Peninsula and in New Brunswick? This has nothing to do with the bees, but it is important for the people in New Brunswick. How will they survive when you will be the major producer and control whatever you pay them for the blueberries?

Mr. Hoffman: All people benefit from more bees. The bees don't stay exactly in one place; they will visit lots of fields. Today we already supply a lot of the blueberry growers with bees and we would continue to do that. In many cases they are short; they don't have the bees they need. We are not able to find enough bees for them.

I think the benefit is there for everyone. That would certainly be our intent. We are not trying to do this for our company; we're trying to do this for the industry. Our philosophy has always been that if we can grow the industry, we will grow with it. This would benefit the whole industry.

Senator Robichaud: I might not agree with you all the way.

Mr. Hoffman: That would be the intent.

Senator Robichaud: I hope it is the intent because there is a preoccupation in New Brunswick about your coming because you will control a lot of the blueberry industry in New Brunswick. You already do, by the way.

Mr. Hoffman: Do you want me to respond?

The Chair: The leadership that has been provided by Oxford Frozen Foods Limited is certainly known across Canada and Atlantic Canada.

To follow up on the last question, Senator Robichaud asked: What if we need free movement? If we have free movement in Atlantic Canada and could go across Canada, what would be the percentage increase in production?

Mr. Hoffman: In some years the average yield in the Canadian fields is around 2,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds to the acre. A lot of people feel that is a pretty good yield. The potential is for twice that, so it could be doubled.

The Chair: With that, honourable senators, I wish to thank our witnesses very much for sharing their professionalism, vision and comments.

(The committee adjourned.)