Bee-renting Businesses Buzzing

Honeybee | BCBusiness
Wanted for rent: honeybees.

While farmers feel the sting from honeybee shortages, beekeepers struggle to keep up with demand

While fruit farmers are distraught over the shortage of honeybees that is posing a major threat to the Lower Mainland’s fruit crops, business is buzzing for local bee-renting companies.

Surrey’s Honeybee Centre, which specializes in renting out colonies to growers province-wide, is one of about 100 beekeepers in B.C. leasing its bees. It’s an industry that John Gibeau, president of Honeybee Centre, says was developed about half a century ago. According to Gibeau, his company is currently swarmed with requests for hives to help farmers pollinate their crops, and is renting to about 11 different fruit farms (apples, blueberries, currants, strawberries, canola, raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, pumpkin, zucchini and squash) in the Lower Mainland.

“There’s a shortfall of about 4,000 colonies in the Lower Mainland,” says Gibeau. “That works out to about six million dollars in lost fruit.”

A colony consists of a family of bees that live in a box. The queen bee lies up to 3,000 eggs per day, which replenishes  bees that die off. “The beekeeper owns that colony and growers rent it for the bloom cycle, which is about four weeks,” says Gibeau. “It’s supposed to live forever and every year the colony gets stronger. It never dies unless it has a disease.”

Gibeau says the colonies cost between $50 to $175 to rent for the duration of the bloom cycle, depending on the berry crops they are pollinating, and any honey extracted during that time goes to the beekeeper to sell, which Gibeau says doubles or triples the value of the rental price.

Renting the bees is significantly cheaper and a less complicated process than buying bees, which would require a second property three kilometres away from the farm, where farmers would have to move the bees during the winter, only bringing them back for the pollination cycle (so they aren’t killed when crops are sprayed with pesticides).

Peter Awram of Honeyview Farm in Rosedale, which puts over 2,000 hives into farms in the Lower Mainland each year, says his farm is receiving nonstop calls from growers who are desperate for hives—in particular blueberry farmers, whose high-demand crops are worth more than $65 million.

“About a third of all the food that you eat has resulted because of pollination. And blueberries are the biggest example of that in the Fraser Valley,” says Awram.

Even though Honeyview is the largest bee farm in the province with about 4,000 hives, Awram says they have had to turn many of those people away. “I could have easily put out another couple thousand hives if I only had the bees,” he says.

Awram says pesticides may be one of the factors in the shortage of bees, but it is definitely not the only cause. “The shortage is a result of government policies that have restricted bringing in bees from the U.S.,” he says.

Gibeau further attributes the shortage to the closure of two large bee suppliers in Alberta.