Alberta Beekeeper Ignites a Discussion about Bee Health in Canada

Aug 12, 2014

Farmers of Canada Twitter Account is Buzzing with Questions

By Amanda Brodhagen,

Beekeepers, especially their livestock – bees, have been gaining national attention in the news lately, particularly in Ontario, stirring up a debate on whether or not neonicotinoids (neonic for short), should be blamed for reported bee deaths.

Thus it has become more important than ever to launch a discussion about bee health in Canada and engage in an exercise of listening and learning from industry stakeholders, including beekeepers (commercial and hobbyists), cash crop farmers, and representatives from the biotech industry. And for one commercial beekeeper, the time to talk about his beekeeping business is now.

Lee Townsend, a commercial beekeeper from Stony Plain, Alberta, says it is “important for beekeepers to become more vocal in Canadian agriculture,” and that’s why he’s decided to participate in the weekly Twitter rotation of @FarmersOfCanada. The account provides a glimpse into a-day-in-the-life of a farmer in Canada. In the past, the account has been hosted by all types of farmers representing several sectors, including dairy, beef, poultry and cash crops, just to name a few.

When asked about what value he saw in volunteering to participate in the rotation curation, he says “beekeeping is a bit of an unknown in Canadian agriculture, so anytime we are given a platform to educate and initiate dialogue with other farmers and consumers is great.” Townsend explains that hosting the account allows for two-way communication between farmers (in this case him as a beekeeper) and those who know little about bees but, are interested in learning more.

One interesting fact that Townsend shared with is that 80 per cent of the bee hives in Canada are owned by 20 per cent of the country’s beekeepers. When asked about how commercial beekeeping is similar to other livestock production within the agricultural industry, he says “bees suffer from diseases and pests that if left untreated, will kill them,” adding that there are also numerous tasks that a beekeeper most do in order to keep their bee-livestock healthy, including feeding them during certain times of the season. “We also buy and sell bees, similar to how you’d buy other animals,” he explains. “But as they are bugs, it is hard for some people to understand that.”

Top three pieces of misinformation surrounding the Canadian bee industry (identified by Townsend):

Bee populations - he says while there are issues and struggles in the beekeeping industry, it is like any commodity in agriculture. “The numbers don’t lie, we are resilient and despite all the challenges tossed our way, we persevere and grow.  It also makes us better beekeepers as we can’t become complacent in our management.”

The importance of farmers and bio-tech industry are to the bee sector – he says beekeepers need a good relationship with farmers in order to be successful, noting that bees need farmers’ fields / “bee yards” in order to survive. Fields provide floral sources for bees to forage on. “They are in a sense our lifeline,” he adds.

Not everyone should become a beekeeper (referring to hobbyists) – he is frustrated when media reports on how people are getting into the bee business in order to help them ("save the bees"). “When someone that doesn’t do this [beekeeping] as their primary source of income, there are bound to be problems” he warns.

If you are interested in learning more about beekeeping in Canada or have questions for Townsend, you can follow the discussion this week on the @FarmersOfCanada Twitter account and @beeman1979 (personal account).

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