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.
The Chair: I welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate
Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
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
Senator Mercer: I'm Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia and I am the
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.
Senator Merchant: I'm Pana Merchant from Saskatchewan.
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
Senator Oh: I am Victor Oh from Ontario.
Senator Eaton: Welcome. I am Nicole Eaton from Ontario.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Dagenais: I am Jean-Guy Dagenais, and I am a senator from
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.
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:
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
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
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
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
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
The Chair: Thank you, doctor.
Now we will ask Dr. Sheffield to make his presentation, to be followed by
Cory S. Sheffield, PhD, Research Scientist — Curator of Invertebrate
Zoology, Royal Saskatchewan Museum: Thank you for having me here, honourable
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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.)