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‘It’s a struggle’: Manitoba beekeepers gather to celebrate, as industry weathers challenges

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Manitoba’s beekeeping industry is buzzing with excitement as it gathers to celebrate the black and yellow workers.

Beekeepers are hosting an event at Little Brown Jug Wednesday in honour of Manitoba Honey Bee Day.

Attendees are invited to enjoy a golden ale, speak with beekeepers and sample honey. A portion of the proceeds from the event goes to support the Manitoba Beekeepers’ Association.

Michael Clark, a third-generation beekeeper, says the event will help support an industry still struggling with record losses experienced in the 2021/22 year.

Data from the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists showed wintering losses were 45.5 per cent across the country, which was almost double that of the year before.

Manitoba reported the highest winter losses in 2022 with 57.2 per cent.

Clark’s colonies in southwest Manitoba were hit even harder that year.

“We lost about 97 per cent of our colonies. We’re on year three of recovery, and we’ve got a couple years yet to go. It’s a struggle.”

Wild bees, meantime, are facing challenges, as well. Multiple species are listed on Canada’s list of wildlife species at risk.

As natural pollinators, they provide massive benefits to crops, with one University of British Columbia study estimating natural pollinators add $2.8 billion in annual farm income, equating to enough food to feed 24 million people.

Clark says the struggles beekeepers are facing are reflective of what wild pollinators are up against.

“We have no way to know how bad it is for them but we assume because they’re so closely related to what we can manage that they are suffering in silence.”

Still, Clark says beekeeping is a rewarding industry. He loves being in nature and watching as his colonies grow and flourish.

And there’s no harder worker than the honey bee, he says.

“They spend most of their lives inside this hive body. They’re cleaning up. They’re nurse bees. They’re taking care of babies, and then as they grow up, they head out the entrance into forage bees and at that time, they’ve got two to three weeks, and then their wings will fall off,” he said.

“So they literally work themselves to death.”

- With files from CTV’s Rachel Lagacé and Becca Clarkson

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