Ontario beekeepers are calling on the federal and provincial governments to beef up regulations for spraying pesticides on crops to protect their hives.
The call comes after 2013’s season came with a devastating loss of honey-producing beehives with bee yards in Ontario reporting losses of up to 90 per cent.
Bill Ferguson is a beekeeper near Hensall, Ont. and the long-time apiarist finds himself leading a charge to get crop farmers to stop using a pesticide believed to be responsible for killing millions of hives across North America in 2013.
“Originally we just wanted to be able to keep the chemical where it was supposed to be and we thought we could survive. But it's gone way beyond that. These materials are not only killing the bees, but they're actually detrimental to all the environment.”
Neonicotinoids are a type of insecticide commonly used to protect seeds from insects. They affect the central nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death.
It's believed the chemical treatment can become airborne in dust during planting in dry conditions and the chemical dust also contaminates flowers foraged on by honey bees.
John Cowan with Grain Farmers of Ontario says the pesticides are necessary to grow corn, and while he agrees there's a problem he says other factors are also to blame for what happened in 2012.
“We planted corn earlier than we normally do. We had bees foraging earlier than normal. And then we had a frost in the first week of May. Certain planters that exhaust - pneumatic planters that plant with air-pressure and exhaust in certain ways - did have an effect.”
According to Health Canada chemical residues were found in about 80 per cent of bee yards where dead bee samples were collected and analyzed.
Beekeeper and corn grower Dan Davidson, who is also president of the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association, says an integrated pest management program is an important first step.
“What we're accomplishing is just the awareness of what is there, the risks, and maybe just the implementation of an [integrated pest management] program.”
But beekeepers are not expecting much improvement this year unless there are wholesale changes in the use of pesticides.
Ferguson says “Best management and practices that they put forward are just feel-good information…the only thing that's going to correct the situation is absolutely stop using it in the massive way they are.”