Saturday, 17 January 2015

Honeybee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder - A Manitoba Beekeeper Tells it Like it is.

by Larry Powell

NEEPAWA, Manitoba - A veteran beekeeper whose operation produces almost half-a-million kilograms of honey per year on the Canadian prairies, Tim Wendell (l.), has learned the hard way, just how big a threat "neonicotinoids" pose to operations like his. "Neonics" are now the most widely used group of insecticides in the world. They are either sprayed on crops such as corn, soybeans and canola, or used to treat their seeds. 

Tim Wendell, above, his wife Isabel 
and a seasonal staff of about 30 keep 
more than 3,000 hives in Manitoba and 
Saskatchewan, south of the Town of 
Roblin. PinP photo - 2009.

On a recent speaking engagement, he told audiences in Neepawa, he lost one "bee yard" himself a couple of years ago. It was next to a field which had been planted 4 or 5 years straight to corn treated with "neonics." 

He estimates, of the 40 thousand bees in that colony, perhaps only 5 thousand were left. And they were "very disorganized - no longer a community." He says government tests confirmed the chemical had gotten into the wax, pollen, soil and water in the yard. No "neonics" were found in the remaining bees, however. But Wendell does not believe that's surprising. That's because the chemical affects their ability to navigate. So those ingesting it simply get lost, never to be seen again!

He is believed to be one of the few, or perhaps the only beekeeper in Manitoba who has found direct evidence that the "neonics" have contributed to the "colony collapse" syndrome in this province. Beekeepers in Ontario and Quebec reported huge losses in 2012, due to the same problem. 
(r.) A healthy hive. 
PinP photo.

Wendell gets upset at "greedy" multinational corporations who make such harmful products, and their shareholders. He says such companies have become unaccountable - so powerful they actually help governments get elected. "We don't need to treat every seed to keep pests at bay," he says.

Much of Manitoba's honey comes from bees who forage on canola crops. Wendell believes, since "neonic-treated" canola seeds are much smaller than corn, the danger to bees is probably much smaller. 

But he is critical of methods used by commercial pollinators, who truck their bees long distances to pollinate food crops for others. Such methods are used widely in the U.S. and in Alberta and the Maritimes in Canada. Such practices weaken the bees by subjecting them to poor nutrition and stress.

But Wendell also admits he and his colleagues may, themselves be contributing to the poor state of honeybee health. The "Varroa destructor," a parasitic mite, for example, is a huge problem for beekeepers everywhere. So, he places chemical strips or "miticide" patches in his hives to combat them, because he feels he must. But he believes the strips, themselves can be harmful, even deadly to the bees. So he uses them as sparingly as he can and is testing out other, more natural treatments that 
won't put his bees at risk but still control the mites.

Interviews with Wendell, along with his recent slide presentation to the Neepawa Rotary Club, are now being aired in rotation on NACTV (Community access). Just go to "Schedule and Programs" and check out the next "Coffee Chat!" 

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