Alberta produces the most honey in Canada, and commercial bee farms range in size from 100 to more than 10,000 colonies, located in every corner of the province.

‘Alberta’s commercial beekeepers are continually exploring ways to reduce costs, reduce their greenhouse gas footprint, explore alternative energy options and become more energy efficient,’ explains Connie Phillips, executive director with the Alberta Beekeepers Commission (ABC).

The commission proposed the project, Improving Energy Efficiencies in Alberta’s Commercial Beekeeping Industry, which has since wrapped up. Ten commercial beekeeping farms from every region in the province participated in the study and had energy assessments done of their operations. Vehicles used in the operations were one of the areas assessed.

‘What’s challenging for beekeepers,’ explains Phillips, ‘unlike a pig barn where you have all your pigs in one spot, bee yards are scattered, especially for the larger beekeepers. The colonies may be 100 km away from the main farm to give them room to forage and not compete for food. Beekeepers need to check on their bees every week or 2, depending on the time of the season.’

Some beekeepers pollinate crops, such as hybrid canola seed, so some are transporting their bees from as far away as northern Alberta to the Lethbridge-Taber area to do so. Some send their bees to overwinter in B.C., then pollinate the early spring crops there before bringing them back to Alberta.

‘So the assessments looked at the full cost cycle for an entire production year. The consultants looked at several different beekeeping variables, including size of the operation and number of colonies, location, season and distribution of bee yards. They also looked at existing operational practices, new operational practices such as indoor overwintering of bees, honey extraction, storage and shipping, and pollination services.’

She adds that beekeepers are facing more hive management challenges as the industry grows, including health and weather impacts with bees, and overwintering losses. Because of that more beekeepers are looking at overwintering buildings.

‘It seems that the winters are stretched out longer and longer which results in the bees being in their hives longer - up to 2 months. When this happens, bees can starve to death. You can’t open the hive when it’s cold, that’s why some beekeepers have gone to overwintering buildings across the Prairies. It needs a lot of energy to maintain a certain temperature and to have a really good air exchange. As part of this project, the consultants designed a net zero overwintering building for bees.’

Each of the participating beekeepers received a farm-specific report with recommendations for the most cost-effective opportunities available for their farm. As well, the researchers conducted an industry-wide assessment, Current Technology and Energy Efficiency Opportunities for Alberta Commercial Beekeeping Industry.

Phillips says that once the project’s final report is complete, work will move to developing the strategy for phase 2 and towards environmental farm plans.

‘Depending on who you’re talking to, people think of beekeeping as managing livestock or managing crops. Bees can straddle the middle. We need to plug into other agriculture sustainably platforms and initiatives and do an exploration to see which ones would work best for beekeeping.’

She adds that the ABC wants to keep moving towards a sustainability plan, as it puts the commission and its members few steps ahead when dealing with emerging markets that are buying Alberta honey, especially in Europe.

‘We’re seeing that these different markets are very interested when the producer has some sort of green or sustainability plan for their farm.’

Funding for this project was provided by the Governments of Canada and Alberta through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change - Group Program. In Alberta, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership represents a federal-provincial investment of $406 million in strategic programs and initiatives for the agricultural sector.

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Contact

For more information about this project, connect with the Alberta Bee Commission:

Phone: 780-289-5604
Email: connie.phillips@albertabeekeepers.ca

For more information about the Canadian Agricultural Partnership:
Phone: 310-FARM (3276)

For media inquiries about this article, call Alberta Agriculture and Forestry's media line:
Phone: 780-422-1005