Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 16 - Evidence - Meeting of September 30, 2014
OTTAWA, Tuesday, September 30, 2014
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
5:05 p.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. We will have two
witnesses by video conference. The first hour will be dedicated to Ms. Victoria
Wojcik, and I will officially recognize her later as we proceed. I want to ask
Ms. Wojcik if she hears us.
Victoria Wojcik, Research Director, Pollinator Partnership: Yes, I do.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
My name is Percy Mockler, senator from New Brunswick, Chair of the Standing
Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. At this time I will ask senators
to introduce themselves.
Senator Tardif: Good afternoon. My name is Claudette Tardif, and I am
a senator from Alberta.
Senator Enverga: I am Tobias Enverga, from Toronto, Ontario, where you
Senator Maltais: Good afternoon. My name is Ghislain Maltais, and I am
a senator from Quebec.
Senator Beyak: Hello. Lynn Beyak, senator from Ontario.
Senator Oh: Hello. Senator Oh from Ontario.
Senator Unger: Good afternoon. I'm Betty Unger from Edmonton, Alberta.
Senator Dagenais: Good afternoon. Jean-Guy Dagenais, a senator from
Senator Ogilvie: Kelvin Ogilvie, Nova Scotia.
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.
Thank you very much, Ms. Wojcik, for accepting our invitation from California
by video conference. As you may be aware, the standing Senate committee was
given an order of reference by the Senate of Canada to 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 was authorized to examine
the 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 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 finally, strategies for
governments, stakeholders, producers and industry in general to ensure bee
Ms. Victoria Wojcik is Research Director, Pollinator Partnership, from
California, and I believe it's in San Francisco. The mission of Pollinator
Partnership is to promote the health of pollinators through conservation,
education and research.
On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, thank
you for accepting our invitation. I would ask you to give your presentation,
which will be followed by questions from senators.
For the record, although you're in California, you're a Canadian citizen.
That said, you have the floor.
Ms. Wojcik: Thank you very much. I have decided to prepare some
background information on Pollinator Partnership and outline some of the
programs that we have, which support pollinators, to give you a better idea of
my personal and institutional expertise. I welcome any questions and concerns on
how pollinator conservation and honeybee health might be promoted in Canada. I
will read from my statement.
Pollinator Partnership is the largest organization singularly dedicated to
the protection and promotion of pollinators and pollination services. This
includes the full scope of ecosystem services provided by bees, butterflies,
bats, moths, beetles, flies and other pollinating animals. Pollinator
Partnership has almost two decades of history working across North America to
support pollinator conservation issues. Our work in Canada spans a similar time
frame, with formal institutionalization as a non-profit in 2013. Pollinator
Partnership manages the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, which is
a tri-national, multi-stakeholder effort between Canada, the United States and
Mexico that addresses pollinator issues. Stakeholders in the North American
Pollinator Protection Campaign include representatives from all levels of
government, researchers, universities, public and private businesses, land
managers, landowners and the general public.
This diverse effort has resulted in positive change for pollinators over the
past decade, including policy, practical management solutions, awareness and
However, pollinators, wild and managed, are showing signs of decline and
stress, which threatens our access to their services. What we and many others in
the field of pollinator conservation and management know is that the primary
threat to pollinators, bees included, is a lack of appropriate habitat. Disease,
pesticide misuse, environmental pollution and climate change all impact
pollinators; but without available space, we are stuck without a solution.
Our approach to bee health and general pollinator health, and the one that I
would encourage the committee to parallel, is threefold. First, we support
pollinator habitat by increasing hectares, connectivity and quality of habitat.
This can be achieved by leveraging existing government land management
initiatives to benefit pollinators; leveraging the resources of public and
private companies that manage land in support of pollinators; supporting the
development of habitat that benefits honeybees and native bees on or near farm
land; and engaging private citizens and gardeners in pollinator habitat
Second, increasing issue salience can be achieved by providing pollinator
conservation education, including on pollinators and various aspects of local,
regional and national policy; by increasing awareness and understanding among
key industries that interact with pollinators — an example of which can be seen
in the Corn Dust Research Consortium that was managed by Pollinator Partnership,
which I can speak about in more detail later; and by increasing public awareness
and awareness among key stakeholders, namely those people who have access to
land that can be habitat for pollinators.
Third, research into pollinator protection and pollinator service management
cannot occur without baseline data. Research to develop best practices for farm
management, pest management, road-side management, utility management and
landscape management is needed as these are key players that can significantly
impact pollinator health. There is limited information on the specific ways in
which pollinators are best managed for conservation across the diversity of
ecosystems in Canada. There is similarly limited information on the association
of key pollinators and crops in Canada. These basic research needs must be
Under this threefold approach, I would like to mention some of the projects
we have successfully completed in North America, and then I will open the floor
to questions from you. We have developed pollinator habitat guidelines for
utility rights-of-way and supported the installation of pollinator habitats
along utility corridors. We have conducted studies of managed timber lands as
potential honeybee forage sites and investigated the additional benefits that
bees provide to forest systems. We have received industry recognition for this
We have developed educational modules that teach pesticide applicators how to
consider the health of pollinators in pesticide application scenarios. We have
reviewed the impacts of pesticides and corn dust containing neonicotinoids on
honeybees. We have reviewed best management practices in crop protection
scenarios for the U.S. EPA and USDA so they can better understand their
mandates. We have reviewed conservation practices and policies funded through
government cost share for the USDA. We have reviewed and developed forage mixes
to improve honeybee health and nutrition. We have partnered with private
business to increase the amount of honeybee forage available in cropping areas
where government cost-share measures do not exist. We have worked with farmers
and gardeners to increase the amount of hectares available to honeybees and
native bees through programs such as Bee Friendly Farming and SHARE. We have
promoted pollinator awareness through Pollinator Week and the Pollinator
If nothing else, I would recommend the inclusion of pollinator language into
programs and mandates as a way to trigger thinking and conversation that has
already been initiated by the media and current events. As an example, I would
present to you Pollinator Week, a grassroots celebration of pollinators and the
bounty they provide, which Pollinator Partnership supports and which has been
active since 2006. Within the United States, Pollinator Partnership has
successfully advocated that states and municipalities officially proclaim and
highlight the importance of pollinators during Pollinator Week. This grassroots
action has been credited as a key force behind the 2014 Presidential Memorandum
on pollinators, signed in the United States, indicating that pollinators must be
a priority within every government department. Now, there is increased momentum
to restore and promote honeybee health and pollinator health.
I believe Canada has a unique opportunity to be proactive in addressing some
of the pollinator issues emerging or that have yet to emerge. Honeybee health is
critical to the Canadian agricultural industry, providing $1 billion in
estimated direct benefits. Native wild bees and native managed bees as well can
play a significant role that has not been explored or exploited sufficiently.
Managing forage for honeybees and increasing opportunities for honeybees to
find food outside of pollination contracts can be addressed practically.
Habitats near agricultural lands or seeded areas that can benefit pollinators
can provide nutritional benefit to honeybees and work to support the beekeeping
industry. As of yet, honeybee shortages and food shortages have not been severe
in Canada, nor have they limited the capacity of the beekeeping industry, but
growth in crop acreages and reduction in feeding habitats, as well as financial
stress, have the potential to put pressure on the honey beekeeping industry and
beekeepers. We and I recommend looking into management of landscapes, such as
roadsides, timberlands, utilities and industry lands, to support honeybee health
through nutrition and forage.
The Chair: Ms. Wojcik, thank you very much. We will commence questions
with Senator Tardif to be followed by Senator Maltais.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for your excellent presentation and for the
many concrete suggestions. I know they will be very beneficial to our committee
as we continue our study.
I know that Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has been working with
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of
Pesticide Regulation in a re-evaluation of three neonicotinoid chemicals. Where
are we at with that? Can you speak to us about the whole issue of
neonicotinoids? We were told by some witnesses a few weeks ago at this committee
that there are currently 7,011 registered pesticides in Canada and that 35 of
these contain the neonicotinoids. What is the situation in the U.S. with regard
to the neonicotinoids and their use?
Ms. Wojcik: In terms of impacts on pollinators, the issues that we
have seen here in the U.S. have most clearly been in corn dust, non-targeted
effects from corn dust through the abrasion of treated seeds — incidents that
were paralleled in southern Ontario that did result in honeybee hives
interacting with chemicals not intended to be airborne — and that sparked a
research program after the development of a new seed lubricant.
If you need more background, I can step back and give you more background on
this particular issue. The original seed lubricant, which was talcum powder, was
abrading the chemical coating on the seed and becoming airborne. The seed was
then behaving in a manner similar to an aerial application of a pesticide;
however, from the perspective of the individual conducting the seeding, this was
not a pesticide application, therefore precautions were not taken, nor do they
necessarily exist for this particular application.
What resulted from that was the development of a new product developed by
Bayer Crop Science, and this is something that EPA and PMRA are working on
regulating, that would reduce the amount of neonicotinoid abraded into the dust
related to seed planting in corn. A now two-year research program that is funded
in part by the manufacturers Bayer Crop and Syngenta, but also USEPA and PMRA,
has looked at how this new product behaves and created recommendations for the
continued use of treated seeds.
I can speak to it in the sense that active research is being done on how to
best manage this particular product at the large overarching government level,
the federal registration level. Similar to Canada, in the U.S. pesticides are
registered for legal use at the federal level, but at the state level is where
the implementation of policy and practice can occur. Some states have actively
taken measures to prevent the use or restrict the use of certain products, but
they have primarily occurred in home and cosmetic uses rather than large-scale
Senator Tardif: Have some states placed restrictions on the use of
neonicotinoids that you are aware of?
Ms. Wojcik: Yes, not in agricultural settings but in the use of
neonicotinoids that have treated ornamental garden plants. It is common to use
these products in the treatment of ornamental garden plants as a method of pest
control, so a few states — Minnesota is one of them — have developed a ban on
neonicotinoids used in ornamental plants sold to the public, primarily at
There has also been a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ban — an agency-level
ban — on the prophylactic use of neonicotinoids on their landscapes. The Fish
and Wildlife Service does in fact manage some lands that can be used for
agriculture or that would have pesticide products used to combat invasive
species. The prophylactic use of neonicotinoids, that is treated seed, is no
longer allowed at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service level.
Senator Tardif: In your research, have you found any links between
neonicotinoids and pollinator health? Have you found that it has affected
Ms. Wojcik: My direct research focuses more on habitat and floral
resources, but I am very familiar with the body of research out there relating
to pesticides and pollinator health, and there are absolutely linkages between
pesticide occurrence use, accumulation and pollinator health.
The biggest concerns that most researchers will say are the synergistic
effects between all pesticides that are used and that bees are exposed to, the
full list of registered products, and pollinator health.
I personally wouldn't single out an individual product, although there has
been a lot of media attention on neonicotinoids, and they are certainly more
directly toxic to bees. There is also a full scope of less directly toxic but
very commonly used products that are impacting bee health.
Senator Maltais: Thank you very much, Ms. Wojcik, for your
presentation. You currently live in California, a state that produces an
enormous amount of fruit. I would think that beekeepers there have a significant
amount of land in terms of pollination for honey production. Is California a
major honey-producing state?
Ms. Wojcik: No, California actually is not considered one of the
leading important states in honey production. The crop of honey production, the
honey preferred commercially — not including boutique honeys, for example,
orange honeys, which, yes, absolutely are produced in large amounts in
California and in states like Florida and Georgia — the predominant market
honey, the Billy Bee equivalent that makes it into the grocery store, is
preferred source from clover, and clover acreages dominate in the Upper Midwest
within the United States, North Dakota, South Dakota, that region, a little bit
into Montana, a little bit into Iowa.
California's primary pollination concern is providing the service of the bees
to pollinate the crop. The honey is not a significant by-product or factor in
the current status of pollinators in California.
I would like to add, and you probably will hear similar things from my
colleague, Gabriele Ludwig, who will be speaking soon, that food for bees, from
which they could make honey, is incredibly limited in California because of
increasing acreages of crops, decreasing acreages of forage — bee food is not
always the crop they're pollinating — and a mismatch in the phenology, the
flowering period of when the crop is there versus the bees, versus natural
plants in the landscape.
Senator Maltais: California has a different climate than Canada does.
What are the state's loss rates for pollinators? I would think they are lower
Ms. Wojcik: The bee loss numbers in Canada are overall a little bit
lower than in the U.S. This year's bee loss numbers were driven substantially in
Canada by high losses in Ontario, which boosted the overall loss quite high.
Within the U.S., the losses were, if I'm not misspeaking, in the low 20 per
cent. In Canada they were in the mid-teens. California is not an area that
factors significantly in the provisioning of honeybee colonies. For the most
part, it is the breeding of queens that is a strong factor in California in
terms of the non-pollination, non-honeybee-keeping industry.
In northern California, where there is much more water and floral landscape,
is one area where queens are bred for production throughout the U.S.
Senator Robichaud: In your presentation, you talked about habitat.
You spoke about the protection of habitat. You've developed guidelines as to
what could be done. How much success have you had with the different
organizations or groups that may contribute to your effort in habitat
Ms. Wojcik: Absolutely. We work with a diverse set of partners, some
which are government landowners, some private citizens and some private
companies and institutions. I would say that in terms of leveraging acreage and
transforming habitat for pollinators, we've currently had the greatest success
with private industry that is already performing some form of land management
activity, where we've been able to give them information to influence their land
management technique. That's us as an organization.
There definitely has been, in the United States, starting in 2008 with the
farm bill, a push to provide government cost share to practices on agricultural
land, if the landowner, the farmer, the producer, puts those landscapes into
conservation. The cost share covers the cost of seed mixes that benefit bees,
honeybees and native bees.
Those measures have been adopted at some level. The acreages are high, 43,000
acres or so, but as a proportion of other habitat conservation practices,
they're low. Songbird conservation, wildlife conservation and water and stream
bank restoration are more accepted on the agricultural landscapes.
I do believe it's because of the cost differential with the seed mixes. The
plant seeds that best feed pollinators right now are available in quantities
that make their unit cost high. The corporations that have a budget that's not
dependent on the crop production have more flexibility in taking a measure that
might not be a direct cost benefit but an environmental benefit on its own.
Senator Robichaud: The habitat you're looking at, is it mostly for
wild pollinators and not honeybees? It would also serve honeybees but certainly
all the other pollinators we have. You also mentioned at the end of your
presentation that there could be a greater role for native bees and other
pollinators. Would you try to elaborate on that, please?
Ms. Wojcik: Yes, absolutely. I'll answer the first question. Habitat
that's designed for pollinators would absolutely function to support the needs
of honeybees, native bees, and the diversity of other pollinators that are of
concern — butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds. However, targeted goals to improve
honeybee health and nutrition would require selecting certain landscapes and
certain plant species that are known to be preferred by honeybees, provide more
nectar and provide the pollens that they like.
Their biology is different enough from the native bees that a native plant
mix is not as good for them, necessarily, in all situations. There has to be
some fine tuning and development of a pollinator general seed mix if you intend
on supporting all parts equally. Research is moving positively in that
direction, but some work still needs to be done.
My comment on the role that native pollinators might play in agriculture is a
personal interest of mine but something that I think can be developed much more
than it has been. Native pollinators could be managed; some are. There are
various leafcutter bees as mentioned in the committee's mandate that are
commercially managed. Then there's the other subset of native pollinators that
are managed through habitat set aside, so making sure there is enough landscape
adjacent to crop areas to provide populations of native bees to pollinate that
The complicating factor with native pollinators is their seasonal emergence
and their shorter life cycle, and timing that to the bloom period of the crop
that needs the pollination. This is true for work across the world. In the
United States and in Europe there is not as much information on the relationship
of native pollinators with the crop varieties we choose to grow to be able to
have best management practices in those scenarios. I believe that's an area
where proactive work could be done in Canada to become a leader in understanding
how the native resources could be used to support crop pollination.
I do not believe it will happen for every crop because some crops are not
native to North America, so finding a native match would be harder, but I am
sure there will be a subset that could benefit from understanding the native
pollinator system better.
Senator Dagenais: Good afternoon, madam. Correct me if I am wrong, but
I believe your group participated in research to find habitat for bees. It even
involved building bee hotels, if you will.
In 2013-14, the average mortality rate of bees in Canada was 25 per cent. In
Ontario, it was 58 per cent. We have talked a lot about neonicotinoids, but
could the bee mortality rate be attributed to the fact that the bees did not
have a place to seek shelter?
Ms. Wojcik: In terms of the mortality numbers you mentioned, those are
specifically attributed to honeybees, which are managed, and they're taken only
from the managed stock we have. They don't speak to any numbers that would
relate to wild honeybees, which exist in very small numbers in Canada and in the
U.S., because it's a non-native species brought to support agricultural
pollination that is primarily managed.
Feral colonies of honeybees do not survive well in North America because of
issues with disease and pathogens such as the varroa mite, which you may have
heard mentioned. It is a mite that impacts the survival of the bee by feeding
off of individual bees like an external parasite, and it weakens the colonies.
In terms of drivers of colony losses within Canada, for honeybees it
certainly would not be related to available sites for bees to live because those
are provided by the beekeeper in the managed scenario. And often honeybee hives
are so heavily managed that they're split in two or three. If one is doing very
well, a beekeeper will make three good hives out of one really good hive to save
some of the bad ones after the season.
With my call for physical habitat for bees, with honeybees it relates
primarily to feeding resources, but with the native bees it relates to a mix of
both feeding and nesting resources. I'm very happy to know you're familiar with
the bee condo program. That was a very good public outreach piece we're quite
proud of, and we thank our partners.
Senator Dagenais: Indeed, it is a market that works well. But as for
condos, we can talk about that later. Thank you.
Senator Beyak: Thank you for an excellent and informative
presentation. Currently in Canada we restrict the import of honeybees from the
United States, except from California and Hawaii, and I'm wondering if it would
be a benefit to your beekeepers if we opened those restrictions. We can't find a
consensus here. Some witnesses say the protections should remain, that it
protects the bees' health. Others say they should be lifted, that the two
colonies are similar and so there would not be a problem. Do you have some
thoughts on that?
Ms. Wojcik: That's a point I haven't personally given much thought to
because I've been aware of the restriction of bee movement driven primarily by
incidences of varroa and Nosema that were higher in the United States. As a
preventive measure to keep diseases from proliferating, the movement of U.S.
bees into Canada is not allowed. However, the movement of Canadian bees into the
U.S. is allowed.
I would defer to experts in the beekeeping part of the bee industry. Your
point about the two areas being very connected is probably correct because I
would imagine a colony of bees in northern North Dakota and southern Manitoba
being able to interact at some level, given that honeybees can fly a
50-kilometre radius from their hives. I personally cannot speak to that, but I
would probably agree that there is some mixing in the two stocks of bees.
Senator Beyak: That was very helpful. You mentioned the United States
brings in bees from Canada. Do you know if they import them from other countries
Ms. Wojcik: I believe they recently stopped importing from New Zealand
and I don't recall the reason. The primary thing beekeepers will do, though, is
not import the actual worker bees, but the queens. Those are bred in Hawaii and
in California for the U.S. market in large part, but they can be exported to
other parts of the world. Workers from other colonies will accept a new queen
and they will increase the stock that way.
Senator Beyak: Thank you very much.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the presentation, Victoria. It was
really good. By the way, it looks like the U.S. is more aware of bees because
you have Pollinator Week and you even have a presidential memorandum. That's a
good thing. It may be something we should follow here in Canada.
This is more following up with Senator Beyak's question on importing bees.
When you talk about American bees, are they pure American bees? What happens
here in Canada is we get bees from Europe. Are your bees typically more American
than European, or is there a mixture?
Ms. Wojcik: No, the nature of the genetic stock of bees in the United
States would be very similar to that of Canada. Bees are preferred from Italian
regions. They're considered to be better honey producers and more docile.
Russian lineages of bees are considered to be more vigorous. It's a beekeeper's
choice what genetic lineage they prefer for the species of bee — Apis
mellifera, the honeybee — they all manage.
The movement of bees would be in relation to an actual hive, the box of bees
that's full of workers, and the restrictions on those movements relate to those
epidemiology issues, the health of the hive. So a queen can be clean, but the
worker bees could get a disease. Restrictions stem from that particular aspect,
the movement of bees from one location to another. No, we would have the exact
same types of bees, barring individual beekeeper preferences for specific
Senator Enverga: Another thing I notice is that one of the reasons
we're banning honeybees from the U.S. is because of Africanized honeybees. In
spite of the similarities, except for the Africanized honeybees, you have a
lower percentage of losses. Do you think the Africanized honeybees help you in
the U.S., or is it not a factor?
Ms. Wojcik: I would not consider it a significant factor. Few
beekeepers manage Africanized bees. There are some beekeepers in the southern
part of the U.S., southern Arizona, maybe southern California, that manage
honeybees that are definitely Africanized or hybrids of Africanized bees and
European honeybees. I have heard interesting stories from them. They are more
aggressive in terms of management from the beekeeper. They get stung more. Do
they produce more honey? The theory is that Africanized bees do produce more
honey. However, honey production primarily occurs in the northern part of the
United States, for this large commercial honey that we like, and Africanized
bees are not well adapted to cooler climates.
I do not think you would have any northern beekeeper who wants to try to
hybridize and encourage Africanized bees. In fact, in a lot of areas, if hives
are found by a beekeeper to be Africanized they will destroy that hive just
because having the staff work with those bees is not something they want to do.
Senator Unger: Thank you, Ms. Wojcik. That's very interesting. This is
a follow-up question to your comments about the varroa mite and the fact that
resistance to that treatment is really quite high. I'm wondering how long it
normally takes for resistance to develop and if any new treatments are being
developed by the U.S. When the treatment is no longer effective, there has to be
something to replace it, so I'm wondering if you would comment on that.
Ms. Wojcik: I'll comment within my range working with honeybees and
honeybee health, which is, I will say, the narrowest part of my expertise in
There is work out of the University of Minnesota to develop lineages of bees
that have a genetically more hygienic behaviour where they physically clean
their bodies more and that has correlated with fewer varroa mite infections
because they can have a better chance of removing the mites. There is also work
out of the Agricultural Research Service lab in Tucson, Arizona. That particular
lab is focused on bee health, nutrition and pathogens, and they do investigate
alternatives in addition to alternative chemical treatments for varroa. Varroa
is treated chemically. It's treated with a miticide.
They do also work on developing non-chemical and alternative treatments. One
of them is a derivative of hops. That's a very sticky substance that off-gases
in the hive, and the varroa mites don't appreciate the hop components being in
If I had to direct you to additional information on varroa and treatments, I
would recommend Marla Spivak at the University of Minnesota, as well as Gloria
DeGrandi-Hoffman at the Tucson bee lab. They would have a more complete answer
than I can offer you.
Senator Oh: Victoria, you have been doing extensive research in the
bee colony problem. Do you know whether Asian countries have the same problem
that we are facing? I understand that the use of pesticides over there is not
properly managed. Do they have the big problem that we are facing here?
Ms. Wojcik: No. The issues facing the managed and native pollinator
industry in Asia are quite different, harder to pinpoint just because of
consistency with reporting. But they relate to incredibly heavy pesticide use in
some areas that's not regulated, which clearly does impact the health of not
necessarily the managed bee as much. For managed bees, their health and survival
in a management setting can be promoted by splitting colonies. So if you have
one that doesn't do well, you can split it and feed it, either with a synthetic
sugar or with honey from another colony, to build up its strength.
In that respect, we're not aware of data from Asia where managed bees are
suffering incredibly. What we are aware of is that they do have issues with the
hive products being accepted by other countries because of known use of
pesticides that would contaminate honey, potentially, and waxes. That's an
element of the beekeeping industry that is impacted in Asia.
They also have issues with non-managed bees. In North America, the honeybee,
as I mentioned, is not native. Wild populations are limited. Within Asia,
honeybees are native. It's a different species. That's the native bee in Asia.
It's called Apis cerana. It's a larger honeybee. It often nests in open
areas. Rather than beekeeping, honey hunting occurs in Asia for the honey from
Apis cerana. Wild populations that are not managed I would suspect would be
impacted more by unregulated or unrestricted uses of pesticides, because there's
no one looking after those particular bees.
I am aware of regions in Asia where heavy pesticide use has decimated native
pollinator populations to the point where hand pollination in some fruit crops
is implemented. That's something I would not want to see anywhere, because we
cannot be as effective as a bee.
The Chair: On the second round, senators.
Senator Tardif: You've stressed the importance of habitat for
pollinator health, and diversified habitat. In Canada and the U.S. we've adopted
large-scale monocultural farming practices. For example, in my area we have huge
tracts of land where we grow canola. In other parts of Canada it could be
soybeans or corn. Pollinators only have one source of food for their diet.
In your opinion, do you think that this affects bee health? If it does, what
can we say to farmers and their agricultural practices to make them more
sensitive to the need for diversified habitat for the promotion of bee health?
Ms. Wojcik: That's an excellent question. It's certainly one that's
asked many times of myself and my organization. Monocultural crops that provide
bees for a long, consistent period of time with a singular pollen source
definitely have the potential to impact the health of those bees. Pollen is a
protein source and it's comprised of various amino acids, and every species out
there needs a certain balance. Bees that feed off of a diversity of plant
species — like honeybees; they're adapted to feed off of many things; they're
generalists — they need pollen from different sources to get that correct
nutritional balance. Different bees, native bees that have single-plant
relationships, they're usually adapted to the nutritional value of that pollen.
So in a wordy way, to answer your question, feeding on a single pollen source
absolutely can negatively impact balanced nutrition. That's not to say it's true
of all pollens. For example, almond pollen is very nutritionally complete. So
that kind of flies in the face of the comment that monocultures are bad, but on
the whole, you would prefer to provide bees with a balanced pollen source.
How to achieve that? I understand that farms are the way they are because of
the efficiency of farming. I'm very familiar with agriculture and I've also
grown my own food in my garden, so I understand why commercial agriculture is
not small plots. But there are some interventions that can be made on
large-scale farms to help balance diets, for pollinators such as honeybees that
may be resident in that landscape for a longer period of time. The planting of
complementary nutritional wildflowers or other cover crops within the forage
area is a solution that's supported by a lot of other pollinator biologists.
There may be some instances in which you get push-back from a producer if the
cover crop or nutritional component would bloom in the same time period when
they are expecting bees to be only interested in the crop that's to be
pollinated. That's something I believe can be worked out through technical
advising, but the full scope of data to get that management directive out does
not always exist.
For example, an almond grower in California would not want anything blooming
during the two weeks of almond bloom to compete with bees visiting almond trees,
because that will cut into the profit they get from the crop. So you would have
to have a more creative solution in that scenario.
Senator Beyak: Canadians watch these broadcasts from coast to coast,
and the question I'm most asked is why does the Senate committee care about bee
health. I can't think of anyone more qualified, with your vast knowledge, than
you to explain the correlation between the habitat, the pollination, the bee
health and our whole food crop. Would you be able to do that?
Ms. Wojcik: Yes, certainly. I appreciate getting that honour bestowed
on me, but I did omit it from my opening statement, under the assumption that
you had already been inundated by some of the facts and metrics because of the
standing committee's time period.
Bee health and pollinator health is vital to our health for a variety of
reasons. One primary reason is that the vast majority of plants — and that
includes crops, but let's start with plants first — require pollinators so that
they can produce a seed; and without a seed, you won't get another plant the
next generation. That goes for many hardwood trees, not pine trees. All of the
hardwood trees that we see, all of the wildflowers that structure our
landscapes, the diversity from east to west, coast to coast, even up in boreal
areas, those plants require pollinators. The numbers are close to 80 per cent
dependence. So you could look out your window and imagine 80 per cent of that
landscape gone if pollinators disappear because that plant is not capable of
In terms of the food we eat, the numbers are a little bit different. It's
about 80 per cent of the crops we grow, but it comes down to about 30 per cent
of our actual diet. We eat very grain-heavy diets, and wheat, corn and rice do
not require pollinators.
The nutritional and health benefits of a lot of food qualities, the
antioxidants, other vitamins and minerals from fruit, in the really important
part of our diet, we would not have without pollinators.
Why anyone anywhere should care is that you'll lose the food you like. You'll
still have some food, but it won't be interesting or particularly diverse and
tasty; and you'll lose the landscape and ecosystem that you rely on. It's also a
really significant cultural component when you start thinking about what defines
you locally and regionally: It's your landscape, and bees support that.
Senator Beyak: Thank you very much.
The Chair: As you know, Ms. Wojcik, bees do not need NEXUS cards or
passports when they are next to border towns of the U.S. and Canada. I would
appreciate your short comment on something.
We were told many times, and you said it too, about best management practices
for improving bee health. The committee heard from other stakeholders and
witnesses that transportation of bees could be a potential stress on bee health.
With your experience and expertise, do you know how transportation could improve
in order to mitigate its impact on bee health and the mandate we have?
Ms. Wojcik: I'll just repeat the question quickly. You're inquiring
about the transportation, or movement, of bees and the impacts that it has on
I believe the comments you may have heard relate to transporting honeybees
for the purpose of pollination services or other managed pollinators, but it's
primarily managed pollinators being moved to a location that needs more bees to
provide the pollinator service than are currently present in that area. My
answer to that question would be twofold, absolutely, if you follow the life of
a bee that is moving for a pollination contract. I work with beekeepers in the
mid- U.S. A beekeeper in Iowa will load his wrapped-up bees in a truck and drive
them for three days to the Sierra Nevada mountain range where they wait at a
California state inspection station to make sure they're clean; then they go and
pollinate California almonds. Why do they do that? They do that because there
are not enough acres or hectares of habitat in California to support bees just
living off the land until they're needed to pollinate the acreages of crops
present, such as almonds, oranges, and others. Bees are being transported
because there aren't enough bees per flower where we need them; and that
transport does stress them.
It's a difficult solution because that is not how current, commercially
viable agriculture works in many cases to find a solution to have local bees
provide local services as much as possible. That means when they're not
pollinating, they need food elsewhere. Unless you want to feed them sugar, which
you can do, they need habitat. More habitats means less driving.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms. Wojcik, for sharing your information with
Ms. Wojcik: You're very welcome, it was my pleasure.
The Chair: Senators, we have received a document that is in one
official language only. The document is being translated. Do I have permission
to share this document?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Honourable senators, our second witness by video conference
is Ms. Gabriele Ludwig, Associate Director, Environmental Affairs, Almond Board
of California. Ms. Ludwig is based in Washington and her association represents
the use of 1.4 million hives. There is no doubt she will be quite an asset and
very informative, given the mandate we have received from the Senate of Canada.
Ms. Ludwig, I would ask you to make your presentation, which will be followed
by questions from senators.
Gabriele Ludwig, Associate Director, Environmental Affairs, Almond Board
of California: Thank you very much for inviting me to speak to honourable
senators and for taking the time to try to understand more about the complexity
of honeybee health and pollinator health in general. I will be speaking from a
U.S. and California perspective. As one of your senators commented, California's
environment is a bit different than most of Canada's. I'll start off by giving
you a sense of the California almond industry.
Basically, almonds are grown throughout the central valley of California, and
that's about 80 per cent of the world's production of almonds. Currently there
are around 328,000 hectares, so actually the numbers of hives we need is now
about 1.6 million, not just 1.4 million, because we need two hives per acre.
The question that came up is why do almonds need bees and beekeepers need
almonds? And this gets into a bit of basic biologically. It turns out that the
pollen of an almond cannot pollinate itself. Each almond orchard consists of at
least two, typically three, different varieties, so it is not technically a full
monoculture because it is different genetic components. We need the bees to not
only move the pollen around within the flower but also to move from one plant or
one set of row of trees to the other row of trees to actually get fertilization.
In the lower picture in my document I tried to give you a sense that there are
two different varieties because you see the trees on the right are past bloom,
whereas the trees on the left are still in full bloom.
As Vicky indicated, we need the pollination services from mid-February
through mid-March. Almonds are one of the first things to bloom in California.
We need two hives per acre. Then the flip side of it is that, at least in the
United States, the relationship between almonds and the commercial beekeepers is
a mutual one. As Vicky already said, almond pollen is actually quite nutritious
for honeybees, so given that they've come off the winter on almond pollen and
nectar, they build strength. Basically they grow more bees over the course of
The financial reality is that until very recently honey was not where the
money was for American beekeepers, and they realized that the money was in
pollination services. Most of the commercial beekeepers are now in the business
of providing pollination services around the country; and the next image, which
is taken from Scientific American, gives a sense of the movement of hives
around the country at different times of year. This is, again, for what we call
the commercial beekeepers.
As you can see, there is a lot of movement into California actually starting
now in the fall through the winter to be ready for almond pollination in
February, and then some beekeepers will go north up the West Coast to do other
services or back to the East Coast to do blueberries or they go to the Upper
Midwest in the summertime for, as Vicky was talking about, honey production. The
other thing is that for certain honeys, as Vicky was saying, they like citrus in
Florida or California for the honey production.
From the almond growers' perspective, what we have been seeing is that the
actual number of commercial hives available to almond growers has been
relatively stable for the last couple of years. You are probably thinking why do
we say that when we hear all about the honeybee decline? The reality of the
matter is that the overwintering losses have been averaging around 30 per cent
for the last six, seven years, and most beekeepers will tell you we really only
want to see about 15 per cent overwintering losses. The reality of the matter is
that the stability in the supply is because the commercial beekeepers have been
investing more into growing their hives, splitting their hives, putting more
products in, whether it's feed or pesticides, to maintain the health of their
hives. Essentially, beekeeping has become more labour-intensive and more
expensive, and that is reflected in the cost of hives to almond growers. About
10 years ago it was maybe $60, $70 a hive; now it's probably averaging around
$150 a hive, so for an almond grower, that is $300 per acre. I can't do the math
quickly for how much that is per hectare, but that's just to give you a sense.
It is a major annual cost input for almond growers.
The other thing I know you guys are struggling with is that farming typically
uses pesticides, but pollinators are not necessarily happy with having
pesticides around. The almond industry has struggled with this for a very long
time because at same time we need bees to do pollination is also the same time
we need fungicides to prevent diseases that get into the flowers during bloom.
Those diseases either prevent nuts from forming, or some of the diseases
actually start damaging, killing off branches. I highlight, from the University
of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management website, the timing for when
best to apply fungicides for some of the key diseases, and you will note that
for a number of them the key timing is full bloom.
This is something the almond industry has been working on for more than 20
years, trying to figure out how to manage the need for bees and the need for
fungicides. I should say in California at this time of year, in normal years
it's still rainy and moist in February, and that's why we have disease problems
then. We have fewer disease problems in the summertime when it's 100 degrees
Fahrenheit and dry.
The main strategy that we can come up with, as I say, is can bloom sprays be
avoided? No. We fund research to the Almond Board of California. We have not
found any way to avoid applying fungicides during bloom, and I should also
explain that the losses are substantial. One reason why organic almonds are so
expensive is because it's hard to control diseases.
We have figured out — and this is true for almonds; I'm not going to say this
is true for all crops — that almond pollen is released in the morning. The bees
forage the pollen off in the morning or afternoon, so to the extent the
fungicides application can occur in the late afternoon and at night, you're
basically applying it when the bees are not present for foraging and the pollen
isn't there either.
The other issue that has come up is that just recently we have come to
realize that a number of the growers have figured out that they can apply some
of the newer insecticides, not neonicotinoids — they are not used very much in
almonds because the kind of insects that the neonicotinoids are good for are not
problems in almonds — and have realized they can tank mix, mix an insecticides
with the fungicides. These are insecticides that go after developing stages of
insects, not the adults, and we think that may have caused some problems for
Based on that experience, we are going out right now with a whole campaign
reminding growers and pest control advisers what the best management practices
are, and actually a key one is better communication. The image on the side with
beekeeper, bee broker, owner, lessee, farm manager, pest control adviser,
applicator, is trying to give a sense of the complexity of the communication
chain you can have in some operations. In other operations, it's as simple as
talking between the beekeeper and the grower, really, basically making sure that
everybody along that communication chain is aware of where the bees are, what
pesticides may or may not be applied and what agreements are and so forth.
One thing we have come to realize is really emphasizing communication. I
would say from what I hear from other grower groups who have engaged on honeybee
health issues in the United States, whether it's the cotton growers or the
citrus growers in Florida, just realizing that they need to talk to each other
has made a humongous difference.
The other issue is basically, in our case, we don't need to be spraying
insecticides during bloom, so we are reminding growers and PCAs not to do so,
and in the case of the fungicides, which we do need at bloom, to spray them in
the late afternoon and evening. Currently, my colleagues are going out to
meetings of the pest control advisers, our annual conference in December, to
disseminate these honeybee best management practices.
What else has the Almond Board of California done? The Almond Board is a
federal marketing order. Growers pay. Essentially three cents per pound of
almonds that go into commercial trade comes to the Almond Board. Most of that
money goes for marketing, but some of that has gone for research. We have been
investing almond grower dollars in honeybee research since 1976. We have been
focused on honeybee health-related research since 1995, long before, to be
blunt, honeybees were fashionable and in the media and so forth.
Currently, more than $1.6 million has been spent on honeybee health-related
research, and that's not just within California. That's with honeybee
researchers throughout the United States. We partner with other non-profits,
including NAPSI and research institutes in the United States.
I know this is one of the questions you guys have been asking and so forth —
and I think this dovetails with what Vicky has been saying — one of the key
areas is improving honeybee nutrition and forage throughout the year. For the
almond industry, as Vicky was saying, there is not enough forage in California,
and not just because of the amount of almonds, but also because California dries
up in the summertime. Basically the plants flower in the spring and then they
dry up; there just aren't that many things blooming in the summertime.
There is a limited amount of natural forage in California, just given the
environment. Because we're reliant on honeybee health, we've come to realize
that we need to not only enhance forage around when the bees are in California
in the winter and spring, but also start to work with partnerships to encourage
forage in other key areas where bees spend time in the United States.
We really cannot overemphasize that tie-in between forage and bee nutrition.
The other element to it is that many of the bees flee the winter of South Dakota
and come to California in the fall and overwinter in California prior to almond
bloom, and they will be fed sugar and various protein formulations. We funded
research on what some of the better foods are to provide honeybees. In that
sense, it is no different than dog feeds. What's good for a dog; what's good for
The other thing you've heard about quite a bit is varroa mite. Earlier I
showed you the slide that on average we have about 30 per cent overwintering
losses across the United States, and about a third of all of those losses can be
attributed to varroa mite. The way I describe varroa mite is it's a mixture
between a vampire and AIDS. I have come to realize that it is not just AIDS; it
has multiple diseases that it transmits in its biting, sucking form. This is a
pretty evil pest and very hard to control.
We have invested research partly in breeding. Vicky mentioned some of those
things. We help bring in bee semen from Europe to improve the breeding stocks in
the United States. We don't bring in the bees.
Testing of new materials, testing of new management techniques to see if
there are additional ways we can help beekeepers better control varroa, because
this is a significant impact on honeybees.
The other priorities are essentially bee breeding, germplasm, preservation,
stock improvement. We fund research on how the pest-control materials we use in
almonds can affect honeybees and how we can manage that.
The other thing is realizing that better communication, better coordination
is a key comment, and that is something I will give NAPSI credit for, that they
have been good at bringing different groups together across North America to
talk about not only honeybee health but also pollinator health in general.
The other thing that we have noticed in the United States — and this is
coming from an industry that has really benefited from research and benefited
from having a strong farm advisory extension system — is that beekeepers in the
United States really don't have the benefit of that system. We've been
supporting projects that are called Tech Transfer Teams that basically provide a
form of extension to beekeepers.
Just to give you a sense that even in almonds we are working on the forage
issue, these are some examples of planting some forage between newly planted
trees. Vicky has said that we don't necessarily want competition with almonds.
I've come to realize that is less of an issue because basically the bees really
like almonds, but what is an issue is that once the almond blooms are gone we
need to spray insecticides; so it is hard to have something blooming inside your
field or orchard if you need to do pest management.
I'm more in favour of trying to use areas around fields, or areas where for
some reason you can't grow something, and planting that with forage that's good
for honeybees or pollinators in general.
Here are some of the efforts we have been engaged with on the varroa mite,
and you can see in that image how big a varroa mite is on a honeybee. We have
also been looking at how to control some of the other diseases like Nosema; the
small hive beetle, which is another hive pest; breeding and so forth.
That is an overview of what we on the Almond Board have been engaged with.
Some of the key questions that we are asking sound very similar to the questions
that you have been asked to ask about: how to ensure that the necessary food
supply and forage for bees and other pollinators exist, both nationally and, in
the case of almonds, both before and after almond bloom in California; and how
to ensure appropriate research exists to develop real solutions. I cannot
emphasize enough that we do rely on U.S. federal dollars going to USDA that
provides labs that we can then fund to do projects, but we have the whole
infrastructure that we can tie into.
How to balance the need for pest-control tools with the simultaneous need for
pollination services. That's certainly an issue for almonds. And how to ensure
that almond pollination is attractive to beekeepers yet at a price that is
reasonable to almond growers.
Fundamentally, our whole program is about ensuring sufficient supply of
strong hives for almond pollination and to ensure that almonds continue to be a
good and safe place for bees.
Senator Tardif: Thank you for a most informative presentation.
You did allude to it in your conclusion, saying that you had some research
dollars. My question, before you came to that point, was where do the monies
come from for the research initiatives that you undertake? You have identified
some of them in your presentation. You stress the importance of research, and so
where do your research monies come from?
Ms. Ludwig: The Almond Board of California is a federal marketing
board, and basically more than 50 years ago the growers got together and decided
to essentially tax themselves; so they pay 3 cents per pound, and then they put
themselves under USDA's supervision. We get our money that we fund our research
with directly from almond growers.
However, we need to have the infrastructure into which our research dollars
can flow, meaning we rely on the fact that there is a University of California
that hires someone who knows something about bees that we can then fund to do
research. We rely on USDA or taxpayer dollars in the United States to have a bee
lab in Tucson.
That's why I'm saying we do fund research, but we also rely on having an
existing infrastructure into which our research dollars can do something.
Senator Tardif: The second point you indicated was how to ensure
appropriate research exists to develop real solutions. Is there a sense that
perhaps some of the research done in the past may not have provided real
solutions, or what was the thinking behind this statement you made?
Ms. Ludwig: I'm going to step into some things here. To be blunt,
currently a lot of research is focused on the neonicotinoids. As Vicky was
saying, from everything we're seeing they are not particularly worse or better
than any of the other pesticides, or certainly other insecticides.
I feel like there's been a lot of emphasis in that arena without necessarily
being able to put it into a larger context. I work on regulatory issues, and the
way I describe it is that the majority of the research that's been done in
pesticides and honeybees is not usable in a regulatory context because you don't
have all the parameters you need.
At the same time, it gets into the media. This is what's going on in the
United States; so there is a lot of pressure on the EPA or in California on the
Department of Pesticide Regulation to do something. But the data doesn't meet
the regulatory needs, the quality of the data that you need.
I would like to see some more thoughtful, larger projects to really use those
monies to help us answer some very complicated questions on the pesticide and
honeybee health side.
Again, this is not easy, but following up on what Vicky is talking about, I
think the other arena is how we match the different kinds of food supplies that
can be grown, whether they have some commercial value or just what plants can be
grown, with what either honeybees or native pollinators need. Again,
research-wise those are the not the easiest questions to be asking, but anything
we can do there would help us be more efficient in using the resources available
to provide forage.
Senator Maltais: Thank you, Ms. Ludwig, for your presentation.
Keeping on the topic of almonds, I want to ask you about something you said
at the beginning of your presentation. You said that, to prevent monocultures,
you scatter three types of almonds in different rows so that the bees can
pollinate the various flowers.
Could that method be used, for instance, for corn or other major crops of
that nature? Would that kind of approach work for Canada? We are talking about
three different varieties of almonds that are planted and that grow at three
different stages. Would that work here?
Ms. Ludwig: Thank you. Let me clarify. The short answer is no, it does
not apply to most other crops because for most other crops you can grow a single
variety in one place, and in the case of corn, wind pollinates it. You don't
need bees. Or in the case of apples that do use pollinators or benefit from
pollinators, you just need to be able to use the pollen within a single flower.
You don't need to move it from one variety to another to get any fruit set.
That's where almond is quite different, and that's why we are so dependent on
pollinators, especially honeybees, because we need that movement of pollen from
one row of trees to another row of trees.
The issue of monoculture from a growing perspective is complicated. I can
give you different perspectives. A lot of people say almonds are monoculture
because I think there are now, as I mentioned, 320,000 hectares of almonds
within the central valley of California. On the other hand, when I go back to my
Midwestern roots and look at the landscape in Indiana or Ohio where it's
typically corn and soybeans, and I compare that with California where you have
almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cotton and canola, the diversity of crops we grow
because of that climate is unique. I get frustrated, to be upfront, when
California is described that way.
I think the other issue with the monoculture is not so much what is within
the field — and I think this is what Vicky was trying to get at — but that we've
become very efficient at keeping weeds out of fields. You used to have borders
around fields or some weeds in fields that inadvertently provided pollinator
habitat, and that's where we've gotten very efficient in our farming techniques
to not have to deal with those problems from a competition perspective, but
we've lost habitat in the process.
The other issue we've seen in the United States with the Upper Midwest is
with corn prices going up — not this year — so much between the global market
and our ethanol policy that land taken out of production got put back into
production. And with that, a significant number of acres of habitat were lost
that were basically returned to prairie lands in the Upper Midwest.
That's the tension here. You have the market forces, the ability to grow very
cleanly, versus the need for habitat.
Senator Robichaud: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We have heard that a problem in Canada is overwintering bees, and it has to
do with lack of food during certain months. I see in your presentation that
you're doing research to develop bee nutritional supplements. How much success
have you had, or how far along are you in finding those supplements?
Ms. Ludwig: One of the bee supplements is called MegaBee, and it's in
the marketplace. But the reality of the matter is that beekeepers are a very
individualistic group of farmers, if you want to call them that, so they will
try to find whatever they can that's cheaper. What I see beekeepers using in
California is brewer's yeast waste, so you've got protein and other things in
there, and that seems certainly to provide them with some nutrients over the
Basically the short answer to your question is that we have actually helped
develop a good supplement that is in the marketplace. It's probably a question
of price point for the beekeepers and whether it's something they want to use or
Senator Robichaud: How expensive is it for the beekeepers?
Ms. Ludwig: Sorry, I don't know.
Senator Robichaud: But that would minimize their loss over the winter
to a certain degree, would it not?
Ms. Ludwig: It certainly could help, yes.
Senator Dagenais: Thank you, Ms. Ludwig, for your presentation.
Before joining the almond board, you worked in the area of food security and
pesticides. You developed integrated pest management approaches and alternative
strategies that led to the reduced use of the most high-risk insecticides. Now,
a lot of research is being done in an effort to find a comprehensive solution.
Would it not be better to work on a more regional level?
You mentioned a number of states in the U.S., and the same is true of Canada.
The focus is always on a comprehensive solution. Should we not endeavour to find
a more regional solution? When it comes to bee mortality, we know that the
conditions for their survival are not the same in every region.
Ms. Ludwig: As I was trying to explain earlier, and amending what
Vicky was saying, with California, the way the environment works is it rains in
the wintertime, in the mountains there's snow, and in the summertime it's hot
and dry. If you look at the natural ecosystem, it just simply dries up. So you
have trees in California that actually lose their leaves in the summertime, not
in the fall as we're used to in colder climates. Basically they're what's called
drought deciduous, so they lose their leaves to not lose water in the
The other matter is that there is no way California can supply enough food,
even with additional habitat, for all the honeybees that almonds need. That's
just the reality of where we are now. So what you're saying is if we are to
become wholly sufficient, self-sufficient, it would mean fewer almonds. I'm just
being upfront with you. It doesn't mean there isn't more that can be done to
improve habitat in California, which is why we are encouraging almond growers to
plant flowers that bloom before, after or during almond bloom. We know basically
a third of the almond pollination does come from California honeybees. So that's
when all the bees are in California. We are basically acknowledging that we need
to provide food around almond pollination and that, for the beekeepers that stay
in California, they're facing some of the similar issues of needing additional
habitat or access to additional habitat. So we've worked with NAPSI on that to
try and figure out ways of improving that. But I will tell you that this is the
third year of a drought. There is no food out there, period. There is just no
food out there.
Senator Robichaud: You say there is no food right now. We hear on the
news about the wildfires in California. Do they destroy the bees? They destroy
the habitat, but are the bees caught up in those wildfires?
Ms. Ludwig: They could be, because the beekeepers that stay in
California — we call them ''the California beekeepers'' — and Victoria also
mentioned that we have a lot of queen breeders based in California. About 50 per
cent of the queens for the United States come from California. What we do have
in California is a lot of different microclimates, because we have the lowest
point in the United States and the highest point in the 48 states.
Beekeepers follow the flowers. They will go up into the hills in the
summertime and into the mountains to follow the flowers. Where most of the fires
have been recently are certainly typically in that forested area. Some of those
places may have had bees there. If they have time, they will move their hives.
I will also say that once you've had a fire, if it's not too hot, you
actually get a lot of flowers blooming in the following spring or two. It
actually may become better habitat for a couple of years, assuming there's
enough water and the fire was not too hot, that it just basically seared
everything in its way.
Yes, if the beekeeper didn't have a chance to get hives out of the way, there
could have been hive losses this year.
Senator Enverga: Thank you for the great presentation, Ms. Ludwig. A
while ago in your presentation you mentioned that bees like almond flowers. Is
it true, as compared to other flowers? Are almond flowers more nutritious for
Ms. Ludwig: I won't say that I know all the facts, but here is what I
can tell on you that. As Victoria mentioned earlier, different flowers provide
different nutritional value to honeybees. The nutritional value is in the
pollen, which has different proteins and amino acids. This is literally like
listening to your dietitian: Eat this, don't eat that, eat more diverse. It's
very similar. Then you also have the nectar, which is the sugar water that
flowers produce to help bring pollinators to them.
We have learned that almond pollen is pretty complete in its diet. We do know
that 100 per cent almond pollen forever is not good. Beekeepers will also tell
you that bees are a bit lazy. They will go to where the food is most abundant
and easiest to get to. An almond tree in full bloom will be easy picking versus
having to forage and figure out which of those flowers down there might have
something for them. That's the way I would put it, but I don't want to say for
sure that I know which flower is always preferred by a honeybee.
Senator Enverga: You mentioned that almond farming is more like
monoculture. Do you match specific varieties of bees with the almond crops? Are
there any specific bees or kinds of bees that you would desire to be within the
almond farms? Is there any particular one?
Ms. Ludwig: No. Basically, the almond growers have contracts with
commercial beekeepers and there is an agreement: ''You will supply X number of
hives by then and then, of this and this quality.'' When we say ''quality,''
that typically means if you open up a hive, you have sort of the boards with
bees on them. Typically the arrangement is that you'll have a minimum of an
eight-frame hive. Essentially, how much the beekeeper gets paid is dependent on
how many more frames or how many fewer frames than eight.
But in terms of bee varieties, we do not make any distinction, because from
the almond grower's perspective, a honeybee is a honeybee. Where beekeepers do
make distinction, as Victoria was saying, is different strains of honeybees are
considered friendly or less friendly, or more resistant to certain diseases. In
that sense it's very similar to plant varieties. Each has their pros and cons.
So beekeepers make some choices. But from our perspective, it's as long as
there's a bee there.
I will add that we have also looked into, from a research perspective,
whether we can make some native bees work for us. We've looked at the blue
orchard bee, which is a solitary bee. It can do pollination. Actually, when it's
present, it makes the honeybees work harder so you get more pollination out of
them. What is still a struggle, because it's a solitary bee, is getting them to
put their nest someplace where we humans can know where it is and manage it. We
haven't figured out that trick. We are trying to see if there are some
additional bees that we could use to supplement honeybees. It wouldn't replace
but supplement, and give more diversity in the pollinators available to almond
The Chair: Ms. Ludwig, in June of this year President Obama released a
presidential memorandum to create a national American strategy to promote the
health of honeybees and other pollinators. Among other things, he said the
initiative includes the creation of a pollinator health task force which will be
tasked with developing a national strategy. That said, as a stakeholder, what
was the reaction to that initiative?
Second, according to that memorandum, the strategy will include a
recommendation for developing private-public partnerships. Do you have any
comments on that?
Ms. Ludwig: I have a couple of thoughts on that. Again, I would give
NAPSI, Victoria's organization, a lot of credit for helping make that memorandum
happen. We were involved with it and provided feedback to the administration
when they asked for it. Certainly from our perspective, we're focused quite a
bit on the research needs and the forage needs.
Where we are now: As you know, it always takes a while for the government,
especially when you're asking different agencies to work together. My
understanding is that over the last two months they have started to meet and
talk to each other, but we haven't seen any results yet.
From our perspective, it's good. As you can tell, this is a complex issue
that crosses many agencies' needs. In the United States, the government has a
lot of land in its hands, or management of land in its hands, so to what extent
can we encourage that management, and different government agencies have ways
that improve the habitat for pollinator health. That's one key area that we hope
will come out of the effort. The other thing is having more people have bees and
pollinators — awareness. That's the other thing that's very good about this.
In terms of the private-public partnerships, in some ways the Almond Board of
California is actually semi- governmental because we're under USDA oversight.
But I don't get paid by taxpayers. I get paid by growers.
We view private-public partnerships as very valuable because they help the
incentive in there. But I will also be clear: There are areas where we need the
government to do things and there are areas where I think private-public
partnerships can be very valuable. Again, NAPSI has been taking a lead in that
arena, which I think has been productive.
The Chair: We hear a lot about urban versus rural bees and beehive
production. In your experience in the U.S., is it also popular in California
what we hear about urban bee production versus the challenges in rural areas
with bee health?
Ms. Ludwig: The short answer is that I'm not aware of a big issue
between urban beekeepers and rural beekeepers. The main difference is simply
that most urban beekeepers are what we call ''backyard beekeepers.'' From an
almond industry's perspective, we don't really interact that much with the
backyard beekeepers because we're relying on the beekeeper willing to move his
or her hives certainly around the state, if not around the country. We basically
don't interact with them that much; although I do see the split between the
urban and rural.
I should say that our offices are 75 miles east of San Francisco. Culturally,
the San Francisco Bay area thinks food should be grown one way, and then in
Modesto, where the offices are, they think food should be grown in a completely
different way. There are fundamental cultural differences between the urban and
rural populations about food production.
The Chair: Ms. Ludwig, with your experience and knowledge, which you
have shared with us and which has been very informative, what recommendations
could you make to our committee about preserving bee health in Canada?
Ms. Ludwig: I would take a look at two areas. First, certainly look at
how you can support the research infrastructure within Canada or figure out how
to partner with existing research infrastructures in other places in the world
that's relevant. At the end of the day, it's really hard to convince people to
do something if you can't prove to them that it makes a difference, whatever
that difference is. Second, and I think Victoria was asked this question, is to
find ways to motivate growers, in particular, and other landholders to consider
pollinator habitat in their management. I ended up being the emcee for a meeting
we had in California between private land managers, like the Nature Conservancy
and other landowners or the utility companies and the rights-of-way, and
beekeepers as well as government entities that manage land. The first part was
just each side learning from each other because they were not aware of the
different issues they faced. Anything you can do along those lines to help that
communication will help.
At the end of the day, certainly one area has been successful on the growers'
side: The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service essentially has been
providing financial incentives to provide habitat for pollinators. So another
area to look at is what the government can do to provide incentives, in
particular in the agriculture sector or the private sector. I don't know enough
about Canadian landholdings to be good at such advice, but look at to what
extent land managed by the government could be managed in ways that would be
helpful to pollinators.
The Chair: Please accept our thanks for sharing your knowledge and
information with this Senate committee. Do you have any further comments?
Ms. Ludwig: I just want to thank you for inviting me and taking the
time at your dinner hour to listen. I also would like to say I appreciate that
you have been asking much more informed questions than other audiences have
asked; so thank you.
The Chair: Ms. Ludwig, thank you very much. Honourable senators, I
declare the meeting adjourned.
(The committee adjourned.)