Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 4 - Evidence - Meeting of February 13, 2014
OTTAWA, Thursday, February 13, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
8:04 a.m. to study 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: Honourable senators, I welcome you to this meeting of the
Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. To the witnesses, thank
you for accepting our invitation. My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New
Brunswick and chair of the committee. At this time, I'd like to ask all senators
to introduce themselves, starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Mercer: Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Terry Mercer. I'm
a senator from Nova Scotia.
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
Senator Merchant: Pana Merchant from Saskatchewan.
Senator Rivard: Good morning, my name is Michel Rivard and I am from
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton, Ontario.
Senator Demers: Good morning; my name is Jacques Demers. I am from
Senator Dagenais: Good morning; Jean-Guy Dagenais from Quebec.
Senator Buth: JoAnne Buth, Manitoba.
Senator Oh: Victor Oh, Ontario.
The Chair: I see that we have two additions. Could I ask the two
senators to introduce themselves, please?
Senator Tardif: Good morning; my name is Claudette Tardif from
Senator Robichaud: Fernand Robichaud, Saint-Louis-de-Kent,
The Chair: 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 order of reference the committee received from the Senate was, more
specifically, that the committee would be authorized to study the following
(a) the importance of bees in pollination to produce food,
especially fruit and vegetables, seed for crop production and honey
production in Canada;
(b) the current state of native pollinators, leafcutter and honey
bees in Canada;
(c) the factors affecting honey bee health, including disease,
parasites and pesticides in Canada and globally;
(d) strategies for governments, producers and industry to ensure bee
Honourable senators, this morning we have four witnesses: Mr. Mark Wales,
Member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture; Mr.
D'Arcy Hilgartner, Director, Grain Growers of Canada; Mr. Todd Hames, President,
Canadian Canola Growers Association; and Mr. Curtis Rempel, Vice-President of
Crop Production and Innovation, Canola Council of Canada.
The presentations will start with Mr. Wales, followed by Mr. Hilgartner, Mr.
Hames and Mr. Rempel.
Mark Wales, Member of Board of Directors, Canadian Federation of
Agriculture: I'd like to thank the committee for inviting me to provide
comments on this importance issue. I am a board member of the Canadian
Federation of Agriculture, and I'm also the President of the Ontario Federation
of Agriculture. I am a diversified horticulture producer from Aylmer, Ontario.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is Canada's largest voluntary farm
organization, representing the interests of more than 37,000 farm family
businesses across Ontario. As a farmer-led organization, the OFA understands
farm issues and champions the interests of Ontario's farming community with
governments and the public. The OFA is the voice of Ontario farmers for a
sustainable farming and food sector.
The OFA is a proud member of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, CFA. The
CFA represents general farmer organizations, like the OFA, as well as national
and interprovincial commodity organizations from every province. We represent
over 200,000 Canadian farmers and farm families.
The CFA appreciates the opportunity to speak to you on your study of the
importance of bees and bee health in the production of honey, food and seed.
As you've heard from your previous witnesses, the acute incidences of
honeybee mortality in Quebec and Ontario continues to concern scientists,
beekeepers, farmers and regulatory bodies alike. But it is important to remember
that the continued issue of honeybee health, and pollinator health in general,
is an issue from coast to coast as so much of agriculture is dependent on bees
and on pollinators.
Canadian farmers across the country rely on the strength of the land, water,
soil and pollinators to keep crops and pastures healthy. The health of
pollinators is an important area of focus for CFA, and we have recently been
appointed to represent the agriculture sector on the advisory board of the
National Bee Health Diagnostic Centre based out of Grande Prairie Regional
College. I represent CFA on that advisory board, and it has been a tremendous
The National Bee Diagnostic Centre was originally developed to provide
diagnostic services to the beekeeping industry. Last year, they received an
NSERC Technology Access Centres Grant from the Government of Canada. The grant
of $350,000 per year for the next five years will enable the National Bee Health
Diagnostic Centre to expand their work to include applied research, new bee
product development, and a more robust training and outreach component for the
The centre is the only specialized, state-of-the-art laboratory in Canada for
a comprehensive analysis of bee stock. Their work will enhance beekeepers'
productivity and innovation by providing a more detailed understanding of the
diseases, pests and parasites that are impacting bee health.
While the issue of pesticides has received much of the focus recently, bee
health is impacted by a complicated mix related to colony management viruses,
bacteria, poor nutrition, genetics and the varroa mite. Continued investment in
research and services that occur at the National Bee Diagnostic Centre will
ensure we better understand the complexity of factors that impact the overall
health of hives. Importantly for farmers, this work will help us understand how
our practices at the farm level will benefit hive health and improve the overall
pollination services in the landscape that can lead to better quality and higher
In order to highlight the tremendous benefit farming practices can have on
hive health and to increase pollinating insect numbers, CFA has joined with
Pollinator Partnership to create the Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator
Conservation Award in 2012. The Pollinator Partnership is an organization active
in both Canada and the United States, with the mission to promote the health of
pollinators. They are one of the members of the Corn Dust Research Consortium, a
multi-stakeholder initiative formed to fund research with the goal of reducing
honeybee exposure to fugitive dust during planting. The CFA and Pollinator
Partnership have created an award that recognizes an individual or family in the
farm and ranch community in Canada who has contributed significantly to
pollinator species protection and conservation on working in wild lands.
The winner in 2013 was Gilvesy's Y U Ranch in Ontario who installed a
2,000-foot pollinator hedgerow and bee nesting habitat. In 2012, the Ruzicka
Sunrise Farm in Alberta, who recognized the value of shelterbelts to help
pollinators thrive, resulting in the enhancement of alfalfa and seed production
on their pastures, were winners as well.
While these two winners are tremendous examples of pollinator conservation,
we recognize that for many farmers the enhancement of biodiversity on their
farms will occur on a smaller scale, yet it is no less important. Continuous
incremental improvements on the margins of farms to enhance habitat for
pollinators can have tremendous impact on biodiversity while still retaining and
enhancing farm profitability. Incentive programs that help fund farmers as they
implement beneficial management practices are essential. It is noteworthy that
the parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development
recommended in a report last week that the government should work with
stakeholders to develop an incentive-based ecological goods and services program
for privately owned agricultural and forestry landscapes. Clearly, pollinator
conservation and beneficial practices should be a part of this, and tools like
the Environmental Farm Plan can be further enhanced by providing guidance on
I would like to offer a few comments on the neonicotinoid issue. We are
concerned about the acute bee death incidents in Ontario and Quebec related to
dust exposure. However, we do not support a ban on these products and we fully
support the science-based approach of PMRA to expedite the re-evaluation of the
neonicotinoid class of active ingredients. The PMRA's efforts to work with U.S.
EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation are welcome and
demonstrate the effectiveness of our regulatory system and the systematic and
collaborative approach PMRA is known for. We look forward to the results of
phase one of the re-evaluation this summer with the release of the value
assessment for neonicotinoids and the interim assessment plan for release for
public consultation in 2015.
The efforts of PMRA, grower groups and beekeepers to address the acute risks
due to dust have been extremely impressive, and there are a suite of activities
planned for 2014. New, safer dust-reducing seed flow lubricants, beneficial
management practices for safer seeding, and new package labels and warnings all
represent the importance of working together in a collaborative way to address
these difficult issues.
In closing, the CFA believes that Canadian agriculture can sustainably
produce healthy and safe food for Canadians and the rest of the world. Farmers
know that stewardship of the land, resource conservation and a healthy
pollinator population is critical to food production and our ecosystems.
Cost-shared incentive programs that build on the efforts of farmers and society
to maximize conservation on the working agricultural landscape are an important
tool to achieve this. We also need a strong science-based platform to make
appropriate decisions, and this will come through the continued support of
organizations like the National Bee Diagnostic Centre.
Finally, we need to maintain a collaborative environment where all
stakeholders can work together to address bee health issues that arise. This
must be aided and supported by a strong regulatory system and the scientific
capacity of a world-class regulator like PMRA.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Wales. Now we will hear from Mr. D'Arcy
D'Arcy Hilgartner, Director, Grain Growers of Canada: Good morning,
Mr. Chair and committee members. Thank you for inviting Grain Growers of Canada
to discuss the importance of bee health.
I'm a Grain Growers of Canada director. Grain Growers of Canada provides a
national voice of over 50,000 active, successful grain, oilseed and pulse
producers from its 14 provincial and regional grower groups. We represent wheat,
durum, barley, canola, oats, corn, soybeans, peas, beans, lentils, rye and
triticale farmers from across Canada.
Along with my brother, our families and my parents, we farm 7,500 acres on a
second generation farm near Camrose, Alberta. We grow canola, wheat, peas,
barley and flax. As a farmer, I also have a background in science and use the
latest agronomic tools and practices to better my farm operations.
Canadian agriculture success is rooted in environmentally sustainable farm
practices using a modern agriculture toolbox. We rely on sound science
principles found in Canada's renowned safe regulatory system.
Sustainable farming techniques have enabled Canadian farmers to become major
contributors to the Canadian economy. The Canadian agriculture and agri-food
system is one of the biggest contributors to our economy, accounting for 8 per
cent of the Canadian GDP in 2010, which is a larger contributor than oil and
From our viewpoint the issue is clear: Farmers and crops need pollinators,
and pollinators need farmers and crops. It is a relationship that farmers
appreciate. On my own land, I work with my local beekeeper, Russell Severson. We
have a great relationship. I look forward to seeing his hives arrive every
spring. Russell has steadily increased the size of his operation over the last
decade and we now have hundreds of hives in multiple locations on our fields. We
work together and communicate on a regular basis, which is the key to any good
As farmers, we need healthy bees. It is in our best interest. You could even
say that farmers may have a vested interest in bee health.
There are over 500,000 hives on the Prairies and they produce 150 pounds of
honey each, so that is 75 million pounds of honey annually. A significant amount
of this honey production comes from canola, so we are glad to see that our
colleagues from the canola sector are here to fill you in. According to the
Western Producer of August 15, 2013, new scientific research indicates that
bees as pollinators help to increase canola yields.
We learn from our local beekeepers that bee health is a complicated issue
with numerous factors needing to be considered, including disease and winter
kill due to the harsh Canadian winters.
Similar to crop protection that farmers use to deal with harmful insects,
beekeepers also need to deal with invasive species like the varroa mite, which
is now in both Canada and the United States. Bees need protection from the
varroa mite; likewise, my crops need protection from invasive insects that can
destroy my yields and my livelihood.
The threat of damage from harmful insects is a common risk that needs to be
managed. With beekeepers and farmers, the risk of insect damage is mitigated
with the tools and technology that we have, and these are regulated by Health
Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency. Neonicotinoids give my crops a
healthy start, free of disease and insects, and protect my crops like a
high-energy vitamin drink given to my crops, giving them an early life-cycle
boost and providing the edge they need to provide a good harvest. Farmers need
to continue to have a wide range of tools to control aggressive pestilent
outbreaks within our crops. Any restriction on neonicotinoid seed treatments
would in fact increase the need for foliar spraying. We feel seed treatments is
a better option as it puts protection directly where it is needed most.
Restrictions on seed treatments would majorly affect the Canadian farmers'
ability to compete with American farmers. At this time in Canada, poor rail
service is a critical situation, with farmers unable to sell their crops because
of the grain backlog. Spring planting cash flow will be challenging. This is
happening when competition for new markets and maintaining current ones is
fierce. Canadian farmers cannot afford to have more competition disadvantages
with our American counterparts.
More research is needed. Farmers have been successfully using neonicotinoids
since the early 1990s and they continue to be used in other parts of the world.
While there have been incidents reported in some regions of Ontario and Quebec,
there were over 21.3 million acres of seed-treated canola planted in Canada last
year and there were no reported incidents that we are aware of. In addition,
there are millions of other acres planted with crops such as soybeans that use
treatments, and again, no reported incidents.
Farmers and beekeepers are working together. There has been considerable work
done in recent years developing best management practices related to bee health.
Grain Growers of Canada has worked with the Canadian Honey Council and with
provincial beekeeper associations, sharing information and ideas. We have worked
with CropLife and with PMRA on best management practices related to bee health,
minimizing exposure to dust. Farmers and industry are working together. Work is
being done on finding long-term solutions. Equipment manufacturers are working
on pilot projects for installing deflectors on planters in areas of high
incidence. Seed companies have been working on new seed-treatment coatings and a
new dust-reducing fluency agent will be mandatory in the marketplace in 2014.
Farmers and beekeepers, along with industry, are working together. Today,
grain farmers, government officials, beekeepers, seed dealers, pesticide
manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and academics are coming together to work
on solutions. A lot has happened in a short time, looking at bee health
challenges, but more work needs to be done.
Grain Growers of Canada is a member of an Agriculture Canada steering
committee looking at bee health to figure out solutions. Grain Growers of Canada
would like to see a national effort in the form of a task force carried forward
on bee health, using a holistic approach involving beekeepers, farmers, industry
and academics. We feel that a sound science approach is needed because modern
agricultural tools are helping farmers to feed our nation and the world.
According to the United Nations, we are told that we will need to feed 9 billion
people by 2050. As farmers, we are constantly improving how we do things on our
farms in order to produce more crops.
In summary, farmers need healthy bees, and bees need our crops. At Grain
Growers of Canada, we will continue to work directly with beekeepers, industry,
scientists, government officials and other farmers, and I will continue to work
with my local beekeeper, Russell Severson, collaboratively.
Controlling harmful insect damage is something that all agricultural sectors
must manage and is an issue we share with our beekeeper colleagues. Any changes
must also be financially sustainable on my farm. The Agriculture Committee is
working together to find solutions, and the work needs to continue. A formal
process through which we can meet with PMRA is also needed to communicate our
sustainable farming practices. Farmers, as agricultural stakeholders, need to be
part of ongoing studies, and we are willing to work with PMRA and beekeepers to
continue to develop improvements. In addition, we would like to have access to
the data that PMRA has collected so that we can analyze it as well.
As we move forward looking for solutions, we trust that the federal
government will continue to make decisions through a science-based lens and
based on sound science principles. Canada's safe regulatory framework is
something we need to be proud of and is viewed with respect in the international
community. Agriculture is a business of balance. Managing risk and working
together, we will find solutions.
I thank you for inviting me to speak to you, and I look forward to your
The Chair: Thank you very much. Now, we will ask Mr. Todd Hames,
President of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, to begin.
Todd Hames, President, Canadian Canola Growers Association: Thank you
for inviting me here today to give a producer's perspective on the importance of
bees and bee health in the production of canola. I will also talk to you about
the mutually beneficial relationship between canola and bees, which leads to
increased honey production.
I am currently the President of the Canadian Canola Growers Association,
which represents 43,000 canola growers. We are governed by a board of
farmer-directors, representing all provinces, from Ontario west to B.C.
My farm is located in Marwayne, east central Alberta. Alberta is an important
province for honey production. Forty-two per cent of Canada's honey is produced
there, and we have about the same percentage of the number of hives. About 85
per cent of the honey produced in Alberta comes from canola flowers.
First, I'd like to say that the relationship between bees and canola is
mutually beneficial. Canola is pollinated by wind and by bees and other
pollinators. For canola growers, pollination can enhance our crop yields, so we
take pollinator health very seriously.
On the benefit to bees, canola offers a very nutritious source of nectar.
Protein levels of canola are in the desirable range of 22 to 27 per cent, and
the fat content is 7 per cent, which is desirable to honeybees. I'm not sure how
they figured that out.
With the scale of canola production in Western Canada, the abundance of
canola flowers offers bees a very efficient feeding ground. This is evident when
looking at the growth in the number of hives in Canada. Statistics Canada
estimates show that hives have increased from 560,000 to 670,000 in the last 10
years. In the same period, canola acreage has gone from 11 million acres to over
20 million acres. In Western Canada, where the majority of the canola is grown,
bee populations have increased in proportion to the growth in canola acres.
I would like to talk now about the concern that has been expressed over the
use of neonicotinoid seed treatments. In particular, there is concern over the
dusting off of seed treatments during planting. From my experience, this hasn't
been a problem during the planting of my canola. This may be due to the small,
round shape of the canola seed, which allows for good adherence of the seed
treatment, the timing of seeding and the seeding equipment used.
With respect to the timing of seeding, we seed canola early in the spring
when bees are not foraging, so direct exposure is limited. More importantly,
canola is seeded using an air seeder that uses air to move the seed from the
seeder directly into the ground. Seed is contained in a sealed, pressurized tank
and is moved with air through hoses to the openers that place the seed under the
ground, one half to three quarters of an inch below the surface.
I brought some samples that I'm going to pass around. This bag that you can
hardly find anything in is 15 seeds. I'm going to talk about that in a second.
That's treated. Then, I've got some non-treated seed so that you can see the
difference. This is just a separate bag of straight treated seed, so that you
can get a better view. Fifteen seeds is a pretty small amount. These samples
show you how tiny the seeds are. The blue colour is the seed treatment coating,
and you can see that there is very little dusting. The other sample is bare
seed. From this, you can see that the volume of seed treatment per acre is very
Canola is also seeded at a very low rate of only five pounds per acre. In
different terms, it's 10 to 15 seeds per square foot. That's the little bag with
15 seeds in it, spread over a square foot of ground. That is how thinly it is
seeded. Since the seeds are so small and we seed at such low rates, it requires
low air volumes to move those seeds through the hoses to the openers. Therefore,
as I mentioned earlier, I do not believe that canola seeding produces any amount
of dust or air contamination from the seed treatments during the seeding
process, nor have I seen evidence of dust being generated during seeding on my
I would like to explain why seed treatments are so important to growers and
why neonicotinoids are unique in protecting canola seed from insect damage.
Treating seed with neonicotinoids offers a way to target insects around the seed
and eliminate or reduce the need to spray. The alternatives to seed-applied
insecticides — coatings — are broadcast/foliar sprays or in-furrow treatments,
which are less targeted and require more chemicals to treat the same amount of
Farmers do not like to spray insecticides. Spraying adds to our costs, but,
more importantly, spraying or ``foliar application,'' as it is referred to,
requires much more active ingredient to be used in the environment. For example,
the amount of insecticide used in a seed treatment is typically less than 10 per
cent of that applied in-furrow and less than 1 per cent of a broadcast or foliar
Depending on the crop and the pests in the area, seed treatments can reduce
the number of foliar sprays by up to four applications. Keep in mind that in the
same way that insecticide spray is toxic to insects, it can also be toxic to
humans if not handled appropriately.
So farmers prefer the targeted approach offered by seed treatments rather
than broadcast or foliar products that can drift. This targeted approach has
contributed to increased yields and to lower use of insecticide or active
Protecting other beneficial insects like spiders and ladybugs is also in the
canola grower's interest. When deciding to spray a field for insects, farmers
make a judgment on the threshold of economic benefit — that is, they look at the
point at which the loss in yield will be greater than the cost of spraying.
There is no financial benefit to growers in spraying when it's not needed. And
as I said before, we don't like to spray for insects if at all possible.
When farmers make the decision that they do need to spray, we take steps to
protect pollinators against high levels of exposure. Best management practices —
and as D'Arcy mentioned, communication with neighbours — for use of these
products include paying attention to wind speeds and directions, carefully
following the product label instructions, including proper cleanup and disposal,
and avoiding spraying around waterways.
But what I can't stress enough is the importance of relationships between
landowners like myself and those surrounding the farm, whether they are
beekeepers or other farmers. No farmer wants to destroy a beekeeper's livelihood
another farmer's livelihood. Therefore, knowing the people in your area and
where the beehives are located is essential in protecting pollinators. Farmers
let beekeepers know when they need to spray so hives can be moved if needed.
In terms of strategies to ensure bee health, a program to alert farmers of
hives in the area would improve the awareness and communication to ensure
preventive steps can be taken by farmers and beekeepers. A program like the U.S.
DriftWatch, if adopted in Canada, which uses GPS coordinates to track hives,
could help in awareness.
Finally, I would like to say that the current science-based regulatory system
does a good job of risk assessment while encouraging continued investment in
agricultural innovations that help me succeed as a farmer to get the most output
out of my farm. That is why canola growers strongly support our current
science-based regulatory approach.
Crop protection products are important to growers, but insecticides are also
vital to beekeepers who struggle with varroa mite infestations, a major pest
that weakens and shortens the life of honeybees. A predictable science-based
regulatory environment that encourages the development of new innovative
products is vital to all growers — crops and honey — and we need to continue to
strongly support it.
I will close by saying that the canola industry takes very seriously its
responsibility to use crop protection products in a safe and responsible way,
and that we want hive numbers to continue to increase and to build upon the
mutually beneficial relationship that exists between canola growers and
beekeepers in Canada.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Rempel, please proceed.
Curtis Rempel, Vice-President of Crop Production and Innovation, Canola
Council of Canada: Good morning, honourable senators. It is my pleasure to
be here today to share the canola industry's perspective on the importance of
bees and bee health. Bees and canola go together very well, and I look forward
to sharing more about the importance of bees for pollination and strategies that
the government, producers and industry can take for bee health.
I'd like to explain or provide a little background on the Canola Council of
Canada and the canola industry in Canada. The Canola Council is a value chain
organization representing the entire canola sector in Canada: 43,000 canola
growers, seed developers, crushers that process the seed into oil and meal, and
exporters who export canola for processing at its final destination. The Canola
Council is the vehicle through which the industry comes together to set
objectives and implement plans for the entire sector.
Canola returns the most income to farmers of any agricultural product in
Canada. It contributes $19.3 billion to the Canadian economy annually and
supports 249,000 jobs in Canada. Our industry has doubled production in the last
ten years. This year, a record 18 million tonnes of canola was produced by
Canadian farmers. This expansion has brought not only significant investment in
rural communities but also more bees to the landscape. Sustainable production is
a major goal of our industry. It means that canola will continue to be
profitable for canola growers; that production will be more resilient to stress
from insects and pests and the environment; and that our canola will be grown in
a way that respects the environment — our water, soil, air, and, of course,
bees, beneficial insects and other pollinators.
Let me explain how canola and bees are mutually beneficial. When it comes to
canola and bees, more canola has meant more bees. It's because canola is good
for bees and bees are good for canola. At 20 million acres planted, canola
covers nearly a quarter of the farmland in Western Canada. According to
Statistics Canada, the number of honeybee colonies reached a record level in
2012. More than 70 per cent of these colonies are in Western Canada, where
canola production has also grown dramatically.
The health of hives in Western Canada remains high as these two industries
grow in close proximity. The overwhelming majority of beekeepers have reported
no concerns with canola production practices; and canola growers, as we have
heard, know that it is in their best interest to protect this mutually
beneficial relationship. There has been no evidence that planting canola seed
treated with an insecticide places pollinators at risk. Seed treatments used in
canola remain on the seed and are not released as dust in the air. Field studies
show that no chronic or acute poisonings from seed treatments occur when
analyzed at field scale rates.
Why is canola good for bees? Canola provides abundant food and large
quantities of nectar to make the type of honey that consumers prefer. For
example, the canola pollen, as we have already heard, is an ideal nutritional
profile for bees. The pollen contains all of the essential amino acids that bees
require; and bees can get all of this energy from foraging one plant. Canola
nectar is abundant. About 80 per cent of the honey produced in Canada is from
canola. The nectar provides a great energy source for bees to forage actively
and to sustain hives and colonies. The yellow canola flower is very attractive
to bees. The flowers are plentiful and the crop flowers for a long period of
time, providing a food source for bees. The canola flower has an ideal size and
shape for a feeding honeybee. The petals provide a convenient landing platform,
and the reservoirs of nectar are at the right length for the honeybee proboscis,
or feeding tube, so it can feed efficiently. With a clear relationship between
canola and the number of bees and amount of honey, a healthy canola crop is
important for farmers and bees.
Canola is treated with an insecticide to prevent damage to seedlings by
insect pests such as flea beetles and cutworms. This insecticide seed treatment
protection has meant 24 per cent more plants and yield increases of 16 per cent,
on average. Seed treatments are integral to good integrated pest management
strategies as they greatly reduce the need for foliar insecticides, which have a
greater impact on pollinator health. More plants and more flowers per plant
result in increased yields for the farmer, which means more food for bees.
Why are bees good for canola? We know that pollination by bees is essential
for hybrid seed production in Canada. Canola seed developers require
approximately 80,000 colonies for honey and leafcutter bees each year for seed
production in Alberta. We also know that pollination by bees can encourage
higher yields, which results in more uniform ripening of the crop. Although the
varieties of canola grown today are highly self-pollinating, they still benefit
from insect pollination. Research has shown that pollination by bees can have a
positive impact on both canola productivity and quality, in part because bees
transfer pollen more efficiently.
What are the best strategies for promoting the health of bees and
pollinators? As I've outlined in my comments, there is a strong
inter-relationship between the health of bees and canola. I'd like to focus my
comments on two areas in particular: responsible use of technology and a
commitment to evidence-based, multi-stakeholder cooperation.
As a canola industry, we promote the health of pollinators by promoting the
responsible use of insecticides and pesticides. The Canola Council's team of
nine professional agronomists work with growers, industry agronomists and
provincial government representatives to promote integrated pest management
practices so that canola is treated only when necessary and the application is
done in a way that does the least harm to bees and other non-target or
beneficial insects. This involves communicating best practices for pesticide
application and increasing awareness of when pesticide application is necessary.
Pollinator health is a complex issue with many stakeholders. It requires all
stakeholders to work together toward improvements grounded in scientific
evidence. This includes beekeepers, honey producers, technology companies,
growers, value-chain organizations and governments.
The Canola Council has been actively engaged with all of these stakeholders
through the working group organized by the Canadian Honey Council and CropLife
to discuss the issue. It's been a healthy dialogue that has increased
understanding and identified areas of focus. We also look forward to being an
active member of the bee health working group co-chaired by Agriculture Canada.
One example of how we've worked together is our effort to expand a program
called DriftWatch. Working with the Canadian Honey Council, we're examining how
more provinces can participate in this program. So far, the program is in place
in 10 states and will cover Saskatchewan for this pilot year. This program has
the potential to prevent pesticides from coming into contact with bees.
In conclusion, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about the
successful relationship between bees and canola. Bees are an important part of
our industry, and canola is important for bees. I commend the committee for
considering this important issue and value sharing the canola industry's
perspective on appropriate strategies for promoting pollinator health.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions as well.
Senator Mercer: Thank you, gentlemen, for being here and for the very
informative presentations. We continue to learn more and more about bees and
canola as we go through this study.
We heard about issue of the DriftWatch program from people in Saskatchewan.
Why isn't there more widespread use in Western Canada? It seems like a logical
thing to do. We talked about Saskatchewan, but why not Manitoba and Alberta and
Mr. Rempel: I think it's logical that we're going to roll it out. What
we want to do is take one look logistically, because there are a lot of partners
to bring into contact with each other. So we're going to look logistically for
one year to see how the program works, and then essentially how we can improve
the program and streamline it.
But we are still going to utilize the principles behind DriftWatch on all
parts of the Prairies this coming year. We're going to do it formally in
Saskatchewan and then we're still going to promote all of the principles behind
DriftWatch, including hive location and avoiding spraying when pollinators are
active. All of those principles are still in play for all of the production
practice areas of canola in Canada.
Senator Mercer: We've heard from other farmers who have a good
relationship with the beekeepers, as Mr. Hilgartner says he has with his local
beekeeper. Is it common practice for canola farmers, or farmers in general, to
notify the local beekeeper when they're spraying, and vice versa, that the local
beekeeper advises you when he or she has hives in the area of your fields? They
may not be on your fields; they may be on a neighbouring field. Is this a common
practice and, if not, should it be?
Mr. Hilgartner: I can speak to my own situation. Like I said, we have
a good relationship and we like to keep that communication open. It's to our
mutual benefit. I like having his hives there, as Curtis and Todd were saying,
as far as increasing my canola yields, and he needs the pollen, so we do that.
Like Todd said, our use of insecticides or any other method of pesticide
control is always reflected in economic benefit, so we don't spray just
``because.'' It's always got to have a need, and if we need to spray then we
kind of will look at where the hives are located and notify him if that's going
to be a problem, especially an insecticide, and work that way.
I like to keep the communication open. Where his hives are located on our
land, it's kind of surrounded by fields, so he's not necessarily affected by
what the neighbour does; it's more by what I do. Therefore, I feel it's
important that I let him know.
Mr. Hames: I know common practice, from talking to some producers, is
that they will communicate with the hive owners two or three days in advance of
an application and discuss what product they're using. This would be primarily
with insecticide products.
A lot of times the insecticide may not be a concern to the hive owner. He may
say, ``That's safe,'' or ``What time are you spraying?'' All of these factors
come into play. So it's having that discussion openly and being proactive and
saying, ``I'm going to spray in two days, here's what I'm doing, here's the
timing. Do you have a problem?'' If needed the hives are moved, and if not it
can be managed by spraying later in the day.
One of the numbers, I think it's after 7 p.m., but even after 4 p.m. in the
daytime there's a significant reduction in the number of active bees. You can
mitigate a lot of it just by communicating and being ahead of the game, as
opposed to ignoring the hives that are there.
DriftWatch is a way to help you locate them, or locate the owners. I'm going
to say that in the Prairies the owners lots of times are better known because
they're your neighbours, because it's not as densely populated as it may be in
Ontario or Quebec. There are larger fields and larger areas with less people as
a population. In southern Ontario you may have a lot of different owners around.
In northern Alberta and Grande Prairie, you probably know whose hives they are
Senator Buth: Thank you very much for being here this morning.
Mr. Wales, you made a comment about an inter-parliamentary committee. I'm not
sure what the committee was, and I'm wondering if you could clarify that.
Mr. Wales: I'm probably going to be unable to do that. I'll just check
through my notes.
Senator Buth: It was on the environment. Federal?
Mr. Wales: You'll have to give me a minute to look at that.
Senator Buth: I'll give you a minute.
The Chair: Mr. Rempel wanted to answer the previous question.
Mr. Rempel: In response to the DriftWatch and the communication of
beekeepers and canola producers, in terms of hive management, et cetera, around
spraying time, the idea behind DriftWatch is that, besides having a local
relationship between the honey producer and the canola producer, the locations
are going to be codified by using GPS and those types of things. That
information is available to the producers, applicators, et cetera.
One of the concerns, and why we're piloting a little bit, is we understand
there have been incidents of potential vandalism of the hives, because the
locations are now more broadly known because of the GPS location. We wanted to
make sure that this runs smoothly and that we're not giving away too much
Codifying the locations is one more of what I call a safety step to make sure
there isn't a miscommunication.
Senator Buth: Mr. Rempel, I just need to clarify with you. You just
commented on vandalizing the hives.
Mr. Rempel: This is what we've heard, whether this is mythical or a
real concern. One of the things that has come back from some of the potential
beekeepers is that if the locations are known too broadly, there is potential
for people to come by and steal honey or steal hive equipment, et cetera. It's
like everything else. It has economic value, and so there is that potential. We
want to make sure we don't have any incidents.
Senator Buth: I'm wondering if either Mr. Rempel or Mr. Hames could
talk more about the differences between seed and foliar treatments and what you
would expect in terms of foliar treatments if you didn't have access to the seed
Mr. Hames: I can start off and then let Curtis get into the technical
side of that.
The seed treatments add protection from flea beetle damage. It is an insect
that can protect the plant when it's very young and coming out of the ground.
The treatment gives the plant protection for a window of time such that when the
insect eats the plant, it will kill the insect. So it's very targeted, and it's
not going to hurt any environmental — like I discussed, it's a targeted
approach. It's a very low amount of active ingredient for what you're doing. So
there is that versus foliar, where you've got to spray everything, and it's
usually an insecticide spray, a more contact-type of kill. It kills everything;
it's indiscriminate about what it kills. It can kill bees, ladybugs and lots of
other insects that are beneficial to crop production.
Also, the amount of active ingredient is 1 per cent; it's 1 per cent of the
active ingredient per acre versus a foliar application. There's a real benefit
in that alone, in my opinion.
Curtis may want to add some technical aspects to that.
Mr. Rempel: To Todd's point and around the evolution of crop
protection products and pest management, there is no 100 per cent perfect
pesticide or pest control compound. But what we have evolving in terms of
technology is always better than what we did, say, 20 years ago.
With the seed treatments, you're now putting on a very targeted application
as opposed to spraying a foliar that has the potential to move to non-target
Additionally, as Todd said, we have greatly reduced the amount of pesticide
that we're applying to any given land unit or crop production unit by using
these seed treatments and moving into this targeted seed treatment approach.
The other piece is that toxicity is in an order of magnitude better than some
of the pesticides we would use in terms of toxicity to bees and other potential
So we're getting better control of the pernicious pest called the flea
beetle, which is found on every acre on the prairies in Western Canada. There is
no canola production area that isn't touched by it. In the past, before we had
the seed treatments, we were using up to three to four foliar applications to
manage. Without effective control of flea beetles, we would have dramatically
reduced crop yields in Western Canada and a much higher financial burden to
Technology has moved us in the right direction, and technology in the next 10
years is going to be even better as we get new compounds into the market, adopt
other integrated pest managements and understand more about bee biology. Some of
these research programs are giving a better handle on bee activity and so on.
Overall, it's becoming a more robust or proactive approach.
Senator Buth: Mr. Wales, have you found that comment? Can you just
Mr. Wales: Yes. It was the House of Commons Standing Committee on the
Environment and Sustainable Development. They were reporting on the study of
habitat conservation in Canada. As I mentioned, their recommendation was that
the government should work with stakeholders to develop incentive-based
``ecological goods and services'' programs.
There are a number of examples of those types of programs across Canada. I
mentioned Mr. Gilvesy, who won the Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Advocate
Award. He's been a strong proponent of the ALUS program, which is the targeted
land-use services model. And there are been some programs in the past. It's all
about ensuring we encourage people to create more habitat for pollinators.
Senator Buth: We've been hearing about all sorts of different groups
that are working on this issue. There's a group in Ontario; there's the Canada
group; PMRA is going the re-evaluation. What is your sense in terms of the
number of groups working on this and the coordination between the groups?
Mr. Rempel: My sense is that there are three distinct groups: the
regulators, and the academic and government scientists, as a cohort; the
producers themselves, both the honey producers and the crop producers — this
mutual relationship; and then there are the other members of the value chain,
including some of the industry associations like CropLife. So there are three
Like you said, there are several initiatives in Canada and internationally
that Canadians are part of in terms of pollinator health.
From my perspective, it's being well coordinated, we are sharing information
very well, and we do have a fairly coordinated approach to moving information
forward and looking at best management practice and stewardship, et cetera.
Could we do better? Probably, at least in terms of even more enhanced
coordination and cooperation. That's also moving into play rapidly to make sure
we're not duplicating and that we're getting information out in a timely fashion
as opposed to just talking to each other.
Senator Tardif: I must say it's nice to see so many Alberta farmers
here this morning. That's great.
I want to get back to Mr. Wales. You spoke about the National Bee Diagnostic
Centre that's set up at Grande Prairie Regional College. Is that correct?
Mr. Wales: The centre itself is at the Beaverlodge Research Station,
which is about 40 miles outside of Grande Prairie. It's fully supported by staff
at the Grande Prairie Regional College.
Senator Tardif: When was it set up and what are the sources of
Mr. Wales: As a technical advisory committee, we had our first
official meeting two weeks ago in Edmonton, but we met first as a group last
September. The facility has been built for about a year and a half now. It's a
level 2 biohazard facility at the station.
I'm trying to work from memory here regarding the funding. A lot of it was
from NSERC, but there is other money besides that. Offhand, I don't know what
that is; I can find out and get back to you.
It is the national testing laboratory for quite a range of bee health issues.
There are more than nine diagnostic tests they do, at a minimum, and with all
the courses offered at Grande Prairie Regional College on bee health, it's a
great link. It's a good group.
So far, beekeepers in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia and Alberta
send their bees there. Actually, Ontario beekeepers are the biggest customers of
Senator Tardif: So if there is an issue with bee health, they would
send it to the laboratory for analysis?
Mr. Wales: Yes. If some of your bees died, you would send them there
for analysis, or if they were not healthy, you would package them up in the
mail, which is an odd thing. At our first meeting, the scientists said that when
the bees arrive live at the post office, they get a call at 2:00 in the morning:
``Please come and get your bees.'' So the staff has to get up in the middle of
the night and fetch the bees.
Senator Tardif: That would be quite a call.
Speaking about bee health, I believe you made a comment about incentive
programs for farmers. How do you see that? There's a comment made that you think
that to increase biodiversity, farmers should have incentives to move forward on
that. I could perhaps have comments from the rest of you, as well. How many
farmers are actually engaging in practices that encourage biodiversity?
Mr. Wales: Historically, it's probably been a hit-and-miss
proposition. There have been some programs. If I think back to the 1980s, there
was a program called the National Soil Conservation Program that encouraged
people to take lower quality parts of the farm, set them aside and put them into
permanent grasses or trees. There was a follow-up program called Permanent Cover
2. It evolved out of some of the land stewardship programs offered. The ALUS
program, which has been a privately funded program to date, operated, if I
recall, in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Ontario. There has been some
private funding by a number of different groups.
Most of those programs work on the principle of giving people so much per
acre to put that land into habitat of some kind — trees, grasses, wild flowers,
that sort of thing. You can do it on fence rows, on marginal areas of the field.
The principle is to set aside that land and give farmers something for doing
that, because there is an economic loss for not farming that land. Everybody
recognizes that there are parts of fields with excessive slopes, drainage issues
or something, but take those parts and put them into permanent habitat.
Unfortunately, there has been no broad, coordinated effort, and my
organization has lobbied for a long time to get this. It's done elsewhere. There
has been a long history of these types of programs in Europe, especially in the
U.K., to encourage people to set land aside for this.
Senator Robichaud: You finished your presentation, Mr. Wales, by
saying you would like to see cost-shared programs for this enhancement of
pollinator habitat. What are you looking for and from whom?
Mr. Wales: I guess that the best example would be taxpayer-funded
programs to help farmers set land aside. Sometimes there may be costs to doing
that. It may have to be seeded down specifically into something. If you're going
to plant, say, native tall grass prairie or wildflowers, that type of seed is
expensive. If you're losing production from that land, that would be the
farmer's contribution to the program. If you're going to plant trees, you have
to buy them as well. You may also have to do some preparation on the land to set
it aside. A number of costs need to be shared between society and the property
Mr. Hilgartner: As far as biodiversity and crop types, I can speak
only to my situation. Canola is by far one of the bigger crops in Western
Canada. Most of that is economically driven. The big one for me is peas and
pulses. My local bee guy likes those; he looks for those. It gives a different
taste to his honey et cetera.
As far as location of the hives, because of the amount of land we have and
the fields, we have a lot of old yard sites that provide. They need not only to
be able to have a spot, but they have to be able to access it on an ongoing
basis — a nice road somewhere — and then it tends to be into shelterbelt areas.
That helps to keep his bees off the road, to what Curtis was saying about
potential damage or vandalism, and protected from the wind and elements, as well
as giving them protection from equipment and that might get in the way. That's
what we do as far as that and biodiversity. He's constantly moving his hives
around the various fields on an ongoing basis.
Senator Tardif: Is there money available now? Are there incentives for
farmers to let their land be used for other purposes?
Mr. Wales: The ALUS program does operate in Ontario currently. There
are probably a couple hundred farmers taking advantage of it. It is totally
Senator Tardif: There's no government program at this moment?
Mr. Wales: I don't think so anymore. The ALUS program that operated in
Manitoba for a while ran out a few years ago. I'm not sure if it still operates
in Prince Edward Island, but I don't think so. Any other programs historically
that have been there, as I mentioned, were back in the latter part of the 1980s,
the very early 1990s.
In Ontario, through the Ministry of Natural Resources, we have a system of
stewardship councils in each county. I just happen to be the past chair of the
one in Elgin County. We manage several wildlife areas for the ministry. Where
the police college is in the town of Aylmer, it's a 300-acre site. We plant
native tall grass prairie there. We host geese from the City of Oakville every
summer. That's a whole story in itself. They actually pay us $5 a goose and ship
us between 2,000 and 3,000 geese every summer and we host them for a month when
they can't fly. It's been a beneficial arrangement for everyone.
We have commercial agriculture on the site. We've been replanting native tall
grass prairie, which has both grasses and wildflowers in it. We were creating
goose pasture, but it's also good for pollinators. As a council, we take the
money generated from the rental for that property and we do habitat projects
with private landowners within the county. We've done encouragement of planting
tall grass prairie in the community, where it hasn't been for 200 years.
Senator Merchant: These programs that you're talking about, are they
federal? Are you looking for federal programs or provincial programs? That is
the responsibility of which government? Where are you looking?
Mr. Wales: If it's an agricultural program, of course that's a shared
responsibility between the federal and provincial government. Historically,
these types of programs have been at the initiative of the provincial
government, although if I go back to the National Soil Conservation Program, it
was federally funded. I just can't recall if there was provincial funding in it.
It was for two years and then Permanent Cover 2 was the follow-up program. I
believe it was federally funded as well and may have had some provincial
Ideally, the joint sharing of responsibility would work the best.
Senator Eaton: Fascinating stuff.
In your presentation, Mr. Wales, you talked about incidences of bee death,
perhaps neonicotinoids in Quebec and Ontario. Out west, you seem to have canola
and bees by the nature that it's sewn earlier and bees are not foraging. But
corn and soya are another deal, aren't they? Is that the difference between the
incidences in Quebec and Ontario and the West?
Mr. Wales: That's a real possibility. Corn and soybeans are the major
crops in Ontario, to a lesser degree in Quebec, although there is corn in
Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan as well. We've seen the canola seed passed
around. Corn seed is a much bigger seed. I was trying in my head to do the plant
population per square foot and it was working out to about one and a half seeds
per square foot. It's a much bigger seed.
Senator Eaton: It's the size of a corn kernel, isn't it?
Mr. Wales: Yes. You're planting 30,000 of those per acre, so it's
about a seed and a half per acre. It's quite a big volume of seed. Three
quarters of the corn crop would be planted with air seeders, which require the
lubricant, and they make dust just by the nature of how they operate. About a
quarter of the corn crop would still be planted with finger planters, which
don't generate much in the way of dust. They use a lubricant.
Senator Eaton: The finger planter goes directly into the soil?
Mr. Wales: It's a gear. It's not using air to push the seed in and
exactly space it. It's using a gear to simply space the seed. That's the
difference between the two types of seeders. When you're using air, you've got
to expel some of that.
Senator Eaton: In Newfoundland, we saw that a machine planted the
corn, but because they plant it when there's still snow on the ground, they lay
a sheet of plastic, which breaks down over the summer. Have things like that
been thought of or been tried in Quebec or Ontario that might keep the dust in
the ground, or would that not do it?
Mr. Wales: Those who grow sweet corn for human consumption, in
Ontario, Quebec and many other areas, would use typically a clear plastic mulch.
I was in Newfoundland and saw plastic mulch. As a vegetable farmer, that's just
one of the tools that we routinely use. I thought they were growing sweet corn,
and they said, ``No, they're growing that for feed for dairy cows.'' I thought
that was an extremely expensive way to grow corn. You would probably add
hundreds of dollars per acre to your cost of production.
Senator Eaton: I don't think they look at it, sitting on an island and
having to transport it. They have other costs. They're not the in same position
Mr. Wales: Yes, feed supply issues in Newfoundland are a real problem.
Certainly, for sweet corn, if you want early production, you would use that.
That would potentially eliminate dust issues, but it would probably make it not
profitable to grow corn in Ontario. Then we would have a real disposal problem.
We grow a little over 2 million acres of corn in Ontario. If you put plastic
mulch down on 2 million acres, we would have a huge recycling problem.
Senator Eaton: This disintegrates into the soil. It becomes food in
Mr. Wales: I've used plastic mulch for a long time. They talk about
biodegradable plastic mulch, and it's not quite biodegradable. There are some
Senator Eaton: That's corn. What about soy, which is a very important
crop in Ontario? Is the seed different? Is it sewn differently than corn?
Mr. Wales: Soybeans are typically planted with a drill, so they don't
require air. It would be very unusual to use an air seeder for soybeans. You
have a round seed. It doesn't require a lubricant, so you don't have any dust
issues. You would treat the seed for the same reasons that you would treat the
Senator Eaton: So it's more like canola?
Mr. Wales: Only quite a bit bigger.
Senator Eaton: Is it sewn as early as canola or is it sewn later?
Mr. Wales: Our seeding dates in Ontario would probably be from May 1
to early June. I'm not sure when you would sow canola.
Mr. Rempel: The planting times would be similar.
Senator Eaton: Is the bee diagnostic centre looking at various crops
and how they could be sewn differently?
Mr. Wales: The centre itself is set up primarily as a testing centre.
When something has happened to your bees or my bees, we would send them there,
and they would diagnose what killed them or what's making them ill. The centre
is working with the college on looking at other issues. It hasn't been up and
running long enough to really do more than the testing first. It needs to stand
on its feet, and then it will start to look at making other recommendations.
The technical advisory committee is an industry panel, so we have
representatives from the Canadian Honey Council, large growers, small growers,
the college itself, the Alberta bee commissioner, the B.C. bee commissioner, the
University of Guelph. First and foremost, manage the facility, and, second,
start to look at the other issues.
Senator Eaton: Why I'm interested and keep going back to this is that
different crops, as you all pointed out, are planted in different seasons,
require different things and are planted in different ways. Because of Quebec
and Ontario, do you think that you will be looking in the future at corn and
soya? Canola, you've already sort of done. Do you think you'll be looking at the
different ways you might plant them or the requirements they might have — more
hedgerows, greater intercommunication? It must differ from crop to crop. It
can't be one story for everybody.
Mr. Rempel: I think that's already in play. We know that, due to the
waxy nature of the canola seed coat and the size, we don't need lubricants. The
treatment adheres. With corn, because of the different nature of the seed coat,
they need a lubricant and a different type of planting equipment. It's a
coordinated effort. It's changing the lubricant types to be less dusty. Also,
because of the vacuum planter that is used, it has to vent somewhere. The
equipment manufacturer is looking at building deflectors or traps that catch the
vented dust coming out.
Senator Eaton: This is what I'm trying to say.
Mr. Rempel: Everybody recognizes that there are some fairly simple
solutions that we can use.
Senator Eaton: For different crops.
Mr. Rempel: For different crops, yes. It won't be a one-size-fits-all
because some crops don't have that particular issue or don't use that type of
planting equipment, so it would be senseless to make a canola producer adopt
that particular thing as a best management practice.
Senator Eaton: I agree. You haven't had incidences, whereas Quebec and
Mr. Rempel: You have to have specific things for the specific seed
types and planting equipment in Ontario.
Senator Eaton: Thank you. You've summed up very well what I've tried
Senator Merchant: I will continue along the same lines with Mr.
Hilgartner. You said you also sew peas and pulses. Do you use the same
equipment? Do you use the same seed treatment? Because peas are larger, too,
Mr. Hilgartner: They are. We do put seed treatments on our peas as
Senator Merchant: The same kind of treatment that you use for canola?
Mr. Hilgartner: No. We use different products with our peas. They have
a round seed, more similar to soya, so they do flow. No one wants to have a lot
of treated seed left over. On my farm, with my seed, I keep it as bare seed in
storage and then treat it as I need it. I have a set-up on my farm to treat my
seed as I require it so that it's not sitting anywhere for a long period of
time. I think that probably helps with any potential dusting off because it goes
on as a liquid, sticks to the seed, goes from my truck, into my drill and into a
pressurized compartment different than the vacuum planters, as Mr. Hames was
explaining. There's no dusting off into the environment. That air gets blown
into the seed row, into the soil, and then immediately closed up. I think that's
a help for those bigger crops that I use it with.
Senator Merchant: You say it's a different kind of treatment. Is it in
the same category, though?
Mr. Hilgartner: Yes.
Senator Merchant: Neonicotinoids?
Mr. Hilgartner: There are a variety of different products, and some
have neonicotinoids in there as well. Yes, there are, for wire worms and cut
worms in wheat and peas and stuff like that.
Senator Merchant: By way of background, in our notes, I noticed that
it said that bee mortality was between 21 and 35 per cent after 2007, but in
2012, according to the notes, it was only 15 per cent. Those might be the last
statistics that they have, because this is only 2014. I'm wondering if you have
any notion of why that might have been. Also, how long have we been keeping
track of bee mortality?
Mr. Rempel: I'm hitting the memory vault here a little bit; at least a
decade in terms of more of a sophisticated survey approach for bee mortality. I
can't speak for Eastern Canada too well, but in Western Canada it has been a
function of winter duration and the number of extreme temperature days. It has
been the severity of the winter that has affected hive colony survival coming
Last year, when the winter wasn't that severe, it sort of warmed up but then
got cold for another six weeks. It was those last six weeks that did a lot of
beekeepers in because the bee colonies ran out of nutrition during that time,
and some bees had already started foraging. It tends to be the more extreme
Beekeepers are getting more sophisticated in terms of wrapping their hives.
Some are also moving their hives into the Okanagan Valley, for instance. That
has its own challenges, but it allows them to hedge their bets in terms of what
happens during winter conditions. Some of those fluctuations have been more a
function of temperature.
How do you mitigate that as a beekeeper? One way is to make sure the hives
are in great health, have ample pollen, nectar nutrients and everything in the
honeycomb going into the winter season. As canola producers, we think we can set
up beehives and beekeepers to overwinter well. It's a matter of a better
understanding of these things.
Mr. Hames: Curtis commented a bit on what I was going to highlight.
The varroa mite or the disease is well known as their biggest challenge. Much of
what has to do with the mortality rate of bees over the winter and why it can
fluctuate is how healthy the bees are going into winter. The healthier the bees
are going into winter storage, the more likely it is that they'll survive the
harsher conditions. If the bees go into winter storage and they're not healthy,
maybe with a bit of disease, and the winter is harsher, it's more likely that
fewer of them will survive. If they go into winter healthy, they'll survive the
temperature changes. That's why I think there's such a fluctuation and it's
harder to put a date on exactly why this year is way different than another
It really affects beekeepers when winter comes early and they haven't had
time to fatten up the bees before getting them into storage. That is a big
factor to local honey producers. One producer said that winter coming early is
probably the biggest factor for bee deaths on his farm. If he can get them in
shape, he's pretty happy.
Senator Eaton: Can't they feed the bees? I know that sounds silly, but
if they feel that winter is longer, can't they feed them in any way?
Mr. Hames: My understanding is that they actually feed them before
they go into winter. They are in a kind of hibernation and they have to have
that food source. Essentially, bees eat nectar all year, and we take their
winter food source away from them to make honey. That has to be replaced with
something else, so just before winter, beekeepers basically feed them sugar to
fatten them up and get that storage into their hives for their winter survival.
If I understand correctly, that's what happens. All summer we steal their food
supply and then, just before winter, we have to put them back in and give them
the food supply that's going to last the winter. I'm not sure whether they can
replace that when winter goes long.
Mr. Rempel: Beekeepers are better versed than I am on this, but I
understand that in the spring, because they're so programmed to start flying and
foraging, even if you supplement by putting nutrition patties near the hive, et
cetera, they won't necessarily look for them. Maybe we have to simulate a
nutritional patty on a simulated canola flower right outside the hive in early
spring or something, so they can identify something they would find and bring it
into the hive.
The Chair: Canadians are anxious to listen and watch what is happening
at the Olympics. Senator Demers will ask the next question, and many Canadians
ask him questions about what will happen at the Olympics.
Today, Senator Demers, you can ask only questions about bees.
Senator Demers: I'm replacing a senator on the committee so this is
new to me. I've learned in the last couple of days about your industry, and it
is so fascinating. To be honest, I had no clue. I commend you for that. It's a
great challenge. Last night, when listening to the witnesses, I found it to be a
very good learning experience.
Mr. Chair, thank you for having me on the committee over the last two days.
Hopefully, this question has not been asked.
The Canadian Canola Council, which has been mentioned many times this
morning, is also encouraging biocontrol approaches. Could you tell the committee
how effective these types of approaches are compared to conventional approaches?
Do farmers have recourse to biocontrol approaches? I know that's a lot of
approaches, but I would appreciate if someone could respond.
Mr. Rempel: With ongoing research, all of the industry is looking at
biologics for a whole host of things from releasing fertilizer more efficiently
to crop protection products in what you might call a more natural fashion. The
challenge is efficacy, how well they work at controlling the pest and whether
they have any kind of off-target effects. We don't necessarily know whether some
of these biologics affect other insect species, what happens under different
environmental conditions and whether they spread rapidly.
In some cases, you rely on nature — weather conditions, rainfall, moisture,
et cetera — to allow the biologics to function. You can get conditions where the
environment is great for the pest and so it propagates rapidly, yet the
environmental conditions for the biologic aren't exactly perfect so it will lag
the pest dramatically. In those cases, as part of a good integrated pest
management practice and field scouting, you would say that the biologic isn't
working and you would need to go back to a more traditional approach to make
sure the yield and the bee food source are protected. We are definitely looking
to see what kind of synergies we can have and what role these biologics can
play, because they have an enormous promise in the future.
Senator Robichaud: There are always a lot of questions to be asked;
and most of them have been well answered.
Some of you put in a plug for the PMRA. I received a letter that concerns
neonicotinoids. I'll read a couple of lines from that letter: ``I urge you to do
all in your power to establish a moratorium on neonics use. Part of this effort
will surely require influence to change the current stance that PMRA took to
delay any action on this killer pesticide.''
I put that out to you just to set the record straight or to give us your
Mr. Wales: It really doesn't matter what we grow or where we grow it.
We depend on PMRA to determine what products we use — pesticides, insecticides,
herbicides, fungicides and so on and so forth.
I think we all strongly support a science-based approach to ensure that
everything done is right. I'm pretty sure I've heard that we've all mentioned
strong support for PMRA. That is the body responsible for ensuring that the
products we use are properly registered, and if there are changes required to
that registration along the way then it's up to them to make that determination.
We, as farmers, will live with that and carry on.
Mr. Rempel: I think, if you look at a rational approach, we've
identified some of the problems. There are potential solutions. Let some of the
solutions play out.
The neonics themselves are sort of a next-generation product. I think they
bring a lot of benefit to the producer, and I know they're less toxic than some
of the alternatives that would have preceded the neonics.
No one is pretending that there isn't a problem, but rather than saying,
``Okay, just ban the neonic,'' I think we have potential solutions. We can look
at new sticker technology or changing dust patterns or lubricants that we're
using in the planter. We can look at collecting dust out of the planters. Those
are fairly simple and cost-effective. They're going to be neutral to a grower in
terms of production practice and cost. They can be very effective for the bee.
I think there are solutions that can play out here that can have a huge
impact for the positive. PMRA is in a good position because they understand
that. They know how to evaluate that by using different stakeholders who are
experts, not just relying on their own judgment. They are good at bringing other
experts in for judgment and opinion.
I think there's something to be said about allowing that to evolve. Then, of
course, it will be iterative; we'll learn again from this process, restructure
it again and get better yet again.
Senator Robichaud: I agree with everything you're saying, but the
words they use are ``to change the current stance that PMRA took to delay any
action on this killer pesticide.'' So are you aware that they're not working as
fast as they should be and that there are some kind of delay tactics in there.
That is what is being said here.
Mr. Rempel: Again, it takes time to gather good evidence, right, and
to let a scientific process evolve. There's a targeted approach to controlling
insecticide. Is it working? Are we looking at all of the environmental
parameters that we need to be monitoring? Yes, we appear to have them all, and
now is it going to be working?
So they have a very systematic approach, and I'm not sure if you could say
that's a delay or that's just what a good society does to make very sound
decisions that impact a lot of stakeholders.
Senator Robichaud: Do you agree?
Mr. Hilgartner: I would agree. We depend on PMRA to give us that sound
I guess we're like anyone: If you want a certain decision — and it doesn't
matter what group it is — and you feel you want it now, you're going to say it's
PMRA has an important job to look at the benefits of this product to us, to
the environment, and to look at the targeted approach. Is it meeting the needs
it was originally designed for? I think they need to take their time to do it
well and get the right answer.
Mr. Hames: I think the writer of the letter wants a knee-jerk reaction
that this is a killer chemistry and we should ban it. Let's face it: All
pesticides and herbicides are meant to kill something. That's what they're for.
They're to kill a pest, a disease, so they're all killers. Should we ban them
We have to define what it means when they say it's a killer. It's a knee-jerk
reaction of just eliminating products that kill. I can name a number of products
— guns and cigarettes — that kill.
The Chair: We'll stick to the order of reference, please.
Senator Robichaud: He was referring, in the first part of his letter,
to a moratorium, because there is one in some countries in Europe. So he's going
along that line. Given what I hear from you, you don't agree with the moratorium
Mr. Hames: We don't agree with the knee-jerk reaction of jumping into
a moratorium before we've done the science to realize where the issue is. Is it
The moratorium, by implementing that right away without determining whether
neonicotinoids are the problem with bees or whether that's one of several —
Senator Rivard: Recently, the Fédération des producteurs de cultures
commerciales du Québec appeared before the committee. The representatives of
that federation told us that in Quebec the loss of bee colonies attributable to
neonicotinoids was especially prevalent in Montérégie and in the Eastern
Townships. In case you do not know where that is, it is in the Montreal region,
to the east; however, in other, more northeasterly regions such as in the
Chaudière- Appalaches and Saguenay Lac-Saint-Jean, where there is a high
domestic density and where farmers also use corn and soybeans treated with
neonicotinoids, no mortality was recorded. Also, the problems due to that are
only found in Ontario and Quebec.
Why is there such a gap between the mortality of bees in Quebec and that
observed elsewhere in Canada? Why is there such a big difference?
Also, have provinces other than Ontario and Quebec taken different measures
in order to avoid the impact of neonicotinoids on the health of bees?
Mr. Rempel: As we were stating, in Western Canada we don't have a high
level of mortality in bees, managed bees, or natural pollinators due to
neonicotinoids. The acute levels and chronic levels seem to be very low in
Western Canada due to neonics.
To reiterate, some of it is due to the planting technology; some of it is due
to the nature of the seed coats and how we can then treat our seed effectively
and appropriately. So we have some advantages due to the type of crops and
planting equipment that we're using that does mitigate risk to bees.
It doesn't mean that we're sitting there or trying to be stationary. I think
we're looking for better ways of working together as canola producers, as
farmers in Western Canada, and as beekeepers, to make sure that already low
levels stay low and continue to decline.
Senator Dagenais: My first question is for Mr. Hames. You mentioned
that you know your beekeepers and even that you warn them when you are going to
spray product. You also mentioned that you had even used GPS systems to locate
the hives. Am I mistaken to say that the beekeepers may not have much of a say
when you decide to spray? You simply go ahead and do it. Do you consult them or
do you not advise them at all?
Mr. Hames: That's where the communication comes in. We certainly do
want to consult and do consult with our neighbours about what products we're
using and the timing of when an application will be made. Then that discussion
can carry forward to whether this product will harm the bees. If it's going to
harm the bees and it's still necessary for the crop, then the beekeeper has an
option of removing the hives from the location for the period of the
application, or the producer can leave a buffer zone. There can be a negotiation
period; I'll leave a sprayer with some buffer zone between the hives.
There are a lot of different scenarios that can happen, but it's all about
communication or negotiating an agreement or a solution with your neighbour.
That's going to differ for different farmers and producers.
As D'Arcy talked about, it depends where the hives are. When they've got an
old yard site, they may be more protected. If the wind is going the right
direction, I'll blow the spray when it's going across the crop in a different
Does that help?
Senator Dagenais: Yes
My question is addressed to the four of you: since I have been sitting on the
Agriculture, Committee, we have been studying the bee colony collapse syndrome;
what do you think this phenomenon is due to? Is it due to the use of varroa or
of neonicotinoids? Otherwise, do you think this is due to some kind of dietary
deficiency the bees are experiencing?
My colleague, Senator Rivard, tells me that in Lac-Saint-Jean the neonics
have no impact on bee life.
I know that your decisions are made according to PMRA information, but did
the varroa mite not also contribute to this phenomenon at a certain point?
Mr. Hames: Certainly I'm not a scientist on this. There have been a
lot of people working diligently around the world on bee deaths in the past
history, and I think they're still a little puzzled, so I'm not capable of
answering the question.
I do believe there are a number of factors, and it is obvious to me why
people haven't figured out this. It is because there are a lot of different
things at play. It's not necessarily one thing that is killing the bees. We
can't target it and say, ``This is it,'' and if we take it away the bees will be
healthy from now on. It's obviously complicated.
The main message is it's not one thing that's going to fix this. There are a
number of factors affecting the mortality rate of bees.
Mr. Rempel: If you read the evidence and scientific literature to date
and then also talk to the beekeeping community, it seems to be that it is a
multifactorial problem. There's the varroa mite, there is Nosema — a viral
disease — and control is difficult. There are the winter conditions we talked
about and what contributes to keep a bee healthy for a long period and over a
long wintering time that we have in Canada.
The other problem is the nutritional source. Not to pick on different crops
or anything, but it's a reality that different pollen sources have different
benefits to bees. In some cases, for a bee to get a complete nutritional
package, it will have to forage a number of crops and work different plant
types. For instance, a crop like canola can be a pretty complete source of
nutrition and the bee doesn't have to spend a lot of time or expend a lot of
extra energy foraging long distances looking for different nutrition sources,
which can also impact bee health and hive health. It's a number of factors
coming together: what species are available, environmental conditions and, then,
I don't know much about it, but the other piece is queen health and the
genetic base of queens that beekeepers have access to. There is a lot of work
being done on the genome sequencing of the bees to see what kind of diversity we
have and what genetics we may need for different regions or ecozones of the
Prairies. One queen doesn't fit all areas of Canada. We are so diverse in our
ecozones. There are a number of things that come into play and it's difficult to
point to one item and say, ``Well if we solve that, then all bees will be out of
That's where the scientific evidence is lining up.
Mr. Hilgartner: Again, I'd like to add I'm a farmer and not a
beekeeper expert, so mine is more observational. Like the fellows before me have
mentioned, it seems to be a very complex problem with multiple factors whether
it's winter overkill, hive health or the like.
To say that if we just take neonicotinoids out of the equation and then the
health of bees across Canada is going to improve dramatically, I don't
necessarily see that as a solution. It's not going to solve the problem.
Mr. Wales: I'll have to agree as well. Again, I'm a farmer, not a
beekeeper, and I'm not a scientist either. I have had the occasion to learn a
lot more about bees in the last year or so than I thought I ever would, and
after 38 years I realize I probably should have paid more attention to bees as
I've gone along.
The issue is not simple. Before we had neonicotinoids, we had bee health
issues. At some point in time we'll move on beyond neonicotinoids and we'll
probably still have bee health issues.
The challenge is the variability of the mortality rates. Even within Ontario
I have beekeepers that talk to me and say they have 80 per cent hive mortality
rates at planting time. Other beekeepers I talk to say that they're having their
best year ever, and they both have fields of corn and soybeans nearby. There is
simply no consistency.
In the bit of time I've been with the technical committee out in Alberta,
there is clearly a wide range of issues. In some European countries where they
have a moratorium, they still have 25 to 30 per cent mortality rates. There's no
Encouraging habitat diversity is important. Bees forage for short periods of
time on many of the crops we grow. The challenge is what they forage on for the
rest of the year.
We are seeing a lot more weather extremes. If I look at the spring 2012, we
had 26 degree Celsius temperatures in Ontario in the middle of March, so all of
our fruit trees decided to bloom, and four weeks later it froze and we lost the
apple crop. Then we had the worst drought certainly since I've been farming, and
we had to get hay from western Ontario to support livestock.
There are a lot of issues here and they're not simple, and we need to solve
the problem. Clearly we've got problems with bee mortality, probably at its
worst in Ontario, and we need to get to the bottom of the problem.
Senator Ogilvie: In this last set of answers you've covered what we
have heard from a number of our witnesses to date, which is that this is a
complex issue overall.
One thing that keeps appearing is the issue of the health of the bees going
into the fall, through the winter and so on.
Now, bees produce nectar for their own reasons. They didn't start producing
it so humans could make honey. They produced it so it would be their nutritional
bank going through the winter. Quite a bit of that is removed and that reduces
the amount of sustenance available to them.
Are there any canola producers who have simply set up some bee colonies
purely for the use of pollinating their crops without any additional
interference into the hives, and, if so, what has been the life-cycle behaviour
of those hives?
Mr. Rempel: There is a large experiment that you could look at,
potentially, that we're starting to get a handle on, and that is all of the bees
that are used for hybrid seed production. A lot of that seed production occurs
in southern Alberta under irrigated conditions because it's a very dry, arid
landscape. In a lot of those instances, my understanding is that the bees are
left there just to pollinate the crop.
In the case of leafcutters, they don't produce a lot of honey anyway. They're
left there as their own resource to keep pollinating the crop.
I don't have a good answer for you at this point in time. I just realized
that I think I have a population that I can test hypothesis on. It would be
interesting to see that managed population and what we can learn from that. I
think a number of scientists at Agriculture Canada and different universities
are looking at this as well, saying, ``There may be a population that we can
study and look at to see what we can learn and to figure out what these
different factors may have in terms of mortality, how they interact and when
Senator Ogilvie: It struck me that that would be the ideal control
Mr. Rempel: Yes, I think we're thinking along the same lines.
Senator Oh: Your industry is so important, as important as the big
three in the automotive industry. You contribute $19.3 billion to the Canadian
economy and you also support 249,000 jobs. You have 8 per cent of Canada's GDP,
which is very important, and you have doubled your growth in the last 10 years.
What do you foresee for the next 10 years?
Another question is: Who are our competitors among the other countries of the
world in the canola industry, and do they face the bee pollinator problem just
Mr. Rempel: I see canola continuing to grow. I think we do have a new
strategic plan at the Canola Council of Canada, which has been vetted with
growers and industry, and we are looking at growth in yield. The acres have
expanded to what would be our natural fence line in Canada in terms of acreage,
but we see yield growing and profitability for the entire value chain in the
Canadian economy growing along with it.
Oddly enough, you need more flowers to get higher seed yields, so bees should
be doing better, too, assuming we're learning about all of the other things that
impact bee health.
In terms of competitors, winter canola is grown in Europe. So Europe would be
a large producing area, and Australia would be a large producing area. Those are
probably our two largest competitors.
They have hive issues as well — Europe definitively. Australia does have
pollinator issues as well. I think that bee decline is a global phenomenon right
The other piece is that, though it sounds counterintuitive, large acreages —
this monoculture — present us with a good opportunity to start really feeding
and looking after bees as well. We have a lot of research to do in the next five
to seven years to understand that well.
Does that answer your question?
Senator Oh: Yes.
The Chair: Are there any other comments on Senator Oh's questions?
Mr. Hilgartner: I do grow more than just canola on my farm, but our
goal is the same. We want to increase production, and to do that we need good
agronomic techniques and tools.
As Curtis said, no matter what you use, if it pollinates, to get more yield,
it needs more flowers. It should be a win- win for us and the beekeeping
community. My neighbour is looking to expand. He wants more honey production.
That's his livelihood, to grow that Canadian economy that we talked about. Going
forward, I think we're all looking for new tools to do that.
Senator Oh: Thank you. Keep on going.
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Hilgartner, in your opening comments you said
that agriculture contributes more to the Canadian economy than oil and gas does.
Do you feel that you have the same kind of support, in research and in science,
as the oil and gas industry gets?
Mr. Hilgartner: I'm probably going to get into trouble with the chair
because it's unrelated to bee health.
Senator Robichaud: It has to do with research.
Mr. Hilgartner: We could always use more research. Simple answer.
Senator Buth: We've heard from quite a few witnesses, and you've come
here today. I've heard some recommendations from you, but, from each of you,
what one recommendation would you make to us that we, as a committee, should
recommend in terms of improving or maintaining bee health?
Mr. Hames: I think the main recommendation is to keep focused on the
science and regulatory system and trust in the science-based decision making and
not emotion decision making. That's probably the biggest thing I would comment
on as a grower. Let's use science and the tools that we have, and not emotion,
to solve the problem.
Mr. Rempel: I agree with that.
My comment would be that we have these different stakeholder groups. Just
keep the communication going in a streamlined fashion and make sure that we're
all talking and dialoguing and communicating as a good forum to bring best
practices and new research forward to provide solutions. Communication.
Mr. Hilgartner: Curtis stole a little bit of my thunder, but as we're
all aware, I think most of us have learned more about bees, bee health and their
relationship to crops in the last year than we have ever known in the past 30.
We alluded to this earlier. There are lots of different groups working on this
problem, and so the key thing is that we're not duplicating. We need to be
communicating that information, sharing it, coming up with a science-based
solution, not the knee-jerk reaction of, ``Let's just ban it,'' and work from
there. Let's make sure that we're coming to the right solution and that we do a
variety of best management practices and new methods and the like to get what we
Mr. Wales: I appreciate having the last word. I won't repeat anything
that everyone else has said, except that communication is an important one.
Clearly, historically there has not been an awareness by farmers of where
bees are. It's a little harder in Ontario because the farm size is smaller and
typically you simply don't know where hives are. So that's been an issue.
I mentioned habitat diversity. That is something that really needs some
support from all levels of government. As we go forward, we need to make sure
that we maintain enough diverse habitat for all the species we have.
We've talked a lot about honeybees, but all of this applies to all of the
wild pollinators as well.
The Chair: Before we adjourn, I can assure you, witnesses, that we
have had a lot of interest in this mandate on the health of bees. You have
enlightened us on regulation, cooperation, communication and education.
(The committee adjourned.)