Companies offering goods and services to the beekeeping sector may find opportunities in the Canadian market.
Beekeeping is an important agricultural industry in Canada, producing honey and other hive products, and delivering valuable pollination services to farmers of orchard fruits, many berries, vegetables, forage, and the production of hybrid canola seed. In 2021, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) estimated that the total annual economic contribution of honey bee pollination through direct additional harvest value was about $3.18 billion. When the estimated contribution of honey bee pollination to the production of hybrid canola seed is added, the total estimated contribution rises to $7 billion per year.
While beekeepers operate in all provinces, the majority (66.2%) of Canadian honey bee colonies were kept in the Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) where long summer days and large areas of good forage crops for bees make it possible for beekeepers to produce honey well in surplus to provincial demand. In contrast, the majority (58.0%) of beekeepers (anyone with one or more honey bee colonies) operate in Ontario and British Columbia, managing 21.7% of the national total of colonies. The three Prairie provinces produced 79.5% of the total national honey production in 2022, totalling 59,141 thousand pounds (out of a total national production of 74,394 thousand pounds).
It is estimated that there were 13,850 beekeepers in Canada in 2022, up from approximately 13,391 the previous year. In the 2022 season, the pandemic’s negative effects on the industry eased. As borders re-opened and transportation links were re-established, this eased the movements of seasonal and temporary foreign workers (critical to many beekeeping operations) and the movement of imported replacement queen and package bees.
Unfortunately, the industry experienced a higher than usual level of overwinter losses, posing challenges to rebuild honey bee populations through the spring and summer. The national total number of hives declined in 2022 to 764,829 – 8.4% fewer than the previous year, which was a record high population, and 3.6% lower than the average of the previous five years. Honey production in Canada in 2022 (by volume) declined by 15.6% from a year earlier to 74.4 million pounds.
Despite lower volumes, sustained robust prices for honey limited the decline in value of the total national harvest to −5.6% (below 2021) to $254 million. The total value of the 2022 harvest is 21.8% higher than the average of the previous five years ($208 million).
According to Statistics Canada, Canada imports more honey than it exports. Canadian beekeepers import queen bees and package bees (a few pounds of worker bees and a mated queen) each spring to supplement domestic supplies of bees. These imported bees are used to rapidly replace over-winter queen and hive losses and to grow beekeeping operations over the season. Queens can be imported from certain countries and regions which have been evaluated to ensure that bees from these places do not pose any unacceptable risk to Canada. Most imported queen bees come from California and Hawaii (74%), with contributions from New Zealand (13.6%), Italy (4.3%), Chile (3.5%), Ukraine (2.9%) and Australia (1.5%).
In 2022, package bees could be imported from a shorter list of approved sources: Australia, New Zealand and Chile. The previous two years (2020 and 2021) was atypical with supply and transportation challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic stranding many sources of package bees overseas. With resumption of supply and very high demand for packages, beekeepers imported a total of 56,739 kgs of package bees — 6.5 times as many as the previous year and 230% of the average quantity of packages received in each of the previous five years. 71% (40,219 kgs) of the total number of imported packages arrived from Australia, 23% (12,808 kgs) from New Zealand, and 6% (3,649 kgs) from Chile.
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