After a few years of exceptionally bad colony losses, conditions for beekeepers in Alberta are showing signs of improvement.

Honey production in the province was up 24 per cent in 2023, climbing to almost 37 million pounds from just under 30 million pounds last year, according to Statistics Canada. About 92 million pounds of honey was produced throughout Canada this year, the highest levels recorded in five years.

Extreme cold snaps and mites caused record bee deaths in 2022 and put many beekeepers into a recovery phase, needing to build back up strong colonies which would be viable for honey production. With a mild spring, long hot summer, and — for some — ample moisture, it’s no surprise 2023 was a banner year for producers, said Craig Toth, president of the Edmonton and District Beekeepers Association, who produces honey is Sturgeon County. 

“When the colonies are really hot, the queen inside the colony is laying more brood, so you have such a bigger increase of bees,” he said. “In an area where there’s lots of moisture, there’s lots of nectar in the flowers. And if you get the hot days where the bees can do lots of flying, you’re going to get lots of honey.”

Though honey production as a whole increased last year, many regions were hit by drought, with over 20 municipalities declaring agricultural disasters this year.

Even county to county, beekeepers can have markedly different experiences. On his own land in Sturgeon County, Toth said honey production was down a lot, “but then I’ve spoken to a beekeeper in Fort Saskatchewan and this is one of his biggest banner years.”

“I can definitely see with our great spring and the work from the previous years, there’s a good chance of higher numbers. Compared to the last couple of years before that, just because of the super-high losses, everybody was just trying to rebound and bring their colonies back up to snuff,” Toth said.

There was $106 million in honey sales in Alberta in 2023, according to StatCan. That’s the highest number on record, and StatCan’s records go back all the way to 1924.

The honey sales figures “shocked” Bridget Reschke, a St. Albert-based honey farmer with family-owned Reschke Honey Farms.

“I really haven’t found the sales were that much more in 2023 than other years,” she said.

Reschke Honey Farm doesn’t supply larger honey producers with its product and sells honey only at Alberta farmers markets, according to Reschke, and that could be why their sales have remained relatively stable.

The family currently tends to about 400 hives located between Barrhead and Fort Assiniboine, but the farm’s founder, Reschke’s father-in-law, used to have around 500 when honey was his main income source.

“Now it’s more like a hobby that brings in some extra grocery money throughout the year,” Reschke said.

But she said that sales have picked up somewhat since the beginning of COVID.

“I think there is more of a turn since COVID of trying to buy local and supporting smaller people, because if we don’t do that we’re not going to survive,” she said.

At least part of the explanation for this year’s record-breaking honey sales lies with inflation, said Rob Roach, deputy chief economist at ATB Financial.

“I also think honey has a good reputation as being healthy,” Roach said. “And more local producers are selling it locally at farmers markets. That’s not new, but maybe that has picked up over time.”

Alberta produces more honey than any other Canadian province, according to StatCan. In 2023, it was responsible for 40 per cent of the country’s honey supply.

By Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, and Riley Tjosvold

Original Published on Jan 09, 2024 at 07:41

This item reprinted with permission from   St. Albert Gazette   St. Albert, Alberta

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