Honey producers in Manitoba are adding up their losses after what was a tough winter for the industry.

Art Bergmann, together with Gary Bergmann runs a small commercial honey operation near Blumenort. Bergmann says he is hearing reports, not only from southeastern Manitoba but across Canada of 40 to 50 per cent of hives being wiped out.

Bergmann notes there are multiple factors that combined to make this a difficult winter. First of all, he says it was a very long winter here in southern Manitoba. He notes for bees that remain insulated outdoors for the season, we normally get some mild weather so they can move around the hive and access feed. However, that did not happen this year. But, Bergmann says the bigger factor is parasites.

"When those parasites get the upper hand, they will weaken a hive and the individual bees, so that they are more susceptible to viruses and this sort of thing," Bergmann explains. "And as much as we could tell at this point, that is the culprit."

Bergmann is quick to add that not all producers who kept their bees outdoors this winter had the same experience. He calls it a mixed bag, noting some of those hives came through just fine, showing their resilience.

For Bergmann, the story is much the same. He says they lost more than 40 per cent of their population. He says last year they produced more than 120,000 pounds of honey and this year they would be thrilled to produce 90,000. Realistically, Bergmann says he expects their production will be 50 to 70 per cent of normal.

"This will be a rebuilding year for us," admits Bergmann. "We're trying to rebuild and weather has not been in our favour for rebuilding."

He says normally there is quite a population of bees that are for sale in Manitoba, yet this year that number is down significantly. Bergmann explains that many producers will raise extra hives in the summer in order to sell those smaller nucleus hives in spring. But, he notes this year there are fewer available than last. Further to that, he says the pandemic has slowed down the importation of bees from Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.

"This year there are very, very few bees that are available because of transportation issues," he adds.

As a result, Bergmann says it will be a tough year to get back to regular numbers.

Believe it or not, Bergmann says the cooler than normal spring might actually be working in their favour to a certain degree. He explains the late start to seeding means there is no canola poking its head out of the ground. Rather than canola plants blossoming in late June, Bergmann says it will likely be July before that happens. He notes that will give a little more time to get their bees in shape.

"Any way you cut it, for a lot of your friends that are beekeepers that are doing this for a living, it's going to be a tougher year for them," notes Bergmann. "But beekeepers and bees are very resilient and we'll manage, we'll find a way to get through."

He says the government has some help available through its AgriStability program.

As for the price of honey, Bergmann says it is already at historic highs, noting this has nothing to do with how bees fared this winter. He says it is a world price and says the war in Ukraine will likely result in production there being 50 to 70 per cent of normal. He is hopeful that will not lead to prices going up, noting beekeepers do not need people to stop buying honey in favour of other sweeteners.

Right now, Bergmann is just hoping for the weather to improve. He says their bees that survived the winter are looking reasonable, however it has still been too cool to get into the hives and help their bees out.