2022 Season highlights

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) Apiary Program conducted regular and targeted inspections in 2022.

Approximately 22,000 honey bee colonies were shipped outside of Ontario for the pollination of blueberry and cranberry crops in eastern Canada.

Ontario beekeepers reported an overall overwinter honey bee mortality of 49% for the winter of 2021-2022. This was significantly higher than the overwinter mortality reported in the previous year (18%).

Notable statistics about the 2022 Ontario beekeeping industry include:

  • number of registered beekeepers: 3,781
  • number of registered colonies: 102,562
  • average honey yield/colony: 34 kg (74 lb) per colony
  • total estimated honey crop: 3.4 million kg (7.6 million lb)
  • overwinter honey bee losses reported by commercial beekeepers: 49%

Pest and disease levels

During the 2022 beekeeping season, OMAFRA inspected a total of 549 bee yards. The presence of common apiary pests and diseases was assessed by ministry apiary inspectors through the brood nest inspection of 4,961 colonies. Inspectors checked for varroa mites in 1,442 of the colonies receiving brood nest inspections and checked for small hive beetle in an additional 6,791 colonies through top bar inspections. The prevalence of the following diseases among inspected colonies were:

  • American foulbrood: 0.56%
  • European foulbrood: 0.38%
  • sacbrood virus: 0.24%

The data represents the colonies inspected in 2022 and is not necessarily reflective of the beekeeping industry across the province.

American foulbrood (Paenibacillus larvae)

American foulbrood (AFB), a bacterial disease of honey bees, was detected in 28 honey bee colonies or 0.56% of the colonies inspected in Ontario. These colonies represented 12 bee yards positive for AFB or 2.19% of the yards inspected. The 2022 data represents an increase in AFB from 2021 when AFB was observed in 0.48% of colonies. While any increase in a disease as serious as AFB merits some attention it is not clear if this is the start of a larger trend as this represents a snapshot in time and the inspections were not randomly assigned. Furthermore, it should be recognized that apiary inspectors work with beekeepers to ensure that AFB-infected colonies are destroyed and the infection is controlled.

Sample analysis continues to confirm that the strains of AFB circulating in Ontario remain susceptible to oxytetracycline.

Learn more about AFB.

Small hive beetle (Aethina tumida)

Small hive beetle (SHB) is an insect pest of honey bees. A total of 10 apiaries, both commercial (operating 50 or more colonies) and small-scale (operating 49 or fewer colonies), tested positive for SHB in Ontario. This represents a decrease in new detections in 2022 when compared to 2021 (n=49). Differences in detections of SHB in beekeeping operations may be due to variation in weather patterns, colony conditions or beekeeper management practices. As well, the positive findings of SHB may also be overrepresented in inspection results due to the high rate of inspection of colonies in the Niagara region to allow for the movement of colonies for out of province pollination. Colonies in the Niagara region make up a large proportion of apiary inspections.

The presence of SHB larvae, which is the main cause of SHB damage to colonies, is documented during apiary inspections. Reports continue to demonstrate that there have been very few instances of SHB creating damage to colonies in the province and the impact of this pest in Ontario remains limited to date.

The ministry has an online map showing the number of SHB-positive bee yards confirmed in each township. This map not only provides current data to other jurisdictions that import Ontario honey bees, but also informs beekeepers about where SHB has been detected in Ontario, which helps them to manage the risk to their beekeeping activities.

Learn more about SHB.

Varroa mites (Varroa destructor)

Ministry apiary inspectors sampling for varroa mites, a common and very serious pest of honey bees, during regular apiary inspections typically documented low levels of infestation early in the beekeeping season for both commercial and small-scale beekeepers and extending into summer for many commercial beekeepers. Across the province, 1,442 (942 commercial, 500 small-scale) colonies were inspected for varroa mites using a standard alcohol wash (a sample of approximately 300 bees collected from the brood nest, washed in alcohol and the varroa mites filtered and quantified).

As varroa mites are widely distributed across the province, the prevalence of these mites is not as informative as the degree of infestation. Guzman et al. (2010) established treatment thresholds for varroa mite infestations. Colonies should be treated for varroa mites in:

  • May if the infestation is greater than 2%
  • August if the infestation is greater than 3%

The mean varroa mite infestation of commercial honey bee operations was 0.59% in April, 0.04% in May, 0.59% in June, 0.20% in July, 0.08% in August, 0.60% in September, and 1.11% in October.

Figure 1. Mean varroa mite infestation levels and treatment thresholds in Ontario commercial honey bee operations in 2022.

The mean varroa mite infestation of small-scale honey bee operations was 0.15% in April, 0.10% in May, 0.10% in June, 0.15% in July, 0.94% in August, 1.70% in September, and 1.15% in October.

Figure 2. Mean varroa mite infestation levels and treatment thresholds in Ontario small-scale honey bee operations in 2022.

Among commercial operations, the mean varroa mite infestation remained below treatment thresholds and ranged from a low of 0.04% in May to a high of 1.11% in October (Figure 1). The degree of varroa mite infestation among small-scale operations was lower at the beginning of the season and then higher during the end of the season and ranged from a low of 0.10% in May and June to a high of 1.70% in September (Figure 2).

While most of the colonies sampled (represented by mean) during inspection for varroa mites were below the treatment threshold in late summer and fall (3 varroa mites per 100 bees), there were colonies that were above the threshold. This demonstrates that colonies were likely heading into the winter with damaging levels of varroa mite infestation.

The life cycle of varroa mites is linked to and dependent on the life cycle of honey bees as varroa mites cannot reproduce independent of developing honey bees. If reproduction of honey bees takes place earlier in the season, then varroa mites are accordingly increasing their levels earlier and reaching peak populations earlier. As soon as honey bee brood is produced, varroa mites begin to reproduce and increase their population (Figure 3). Additionally, varroa mites have an exponential population growth whereby an increase in levels accelerates with progressive intensity. This is important to note because once varroa mites begin to reach a certain level they may become difficult to manage due to the sheer number present in the colony.

A line graph showing the relationship between varroa mite (brown line) and honey bee (green line) populations within a single honey bee colony over the beekeeping season. The relationship reflects the growth of varroa mite populations if no varroa mite treatments are applied to the colony. In this situation, the varroa mite population shows exponential growth beginning in the spring (May) and overtaking the honey bee population in the summer months (July). The honey bee population growth resembles a bell curve, peaking in the summer months and declining into the fall months.

Figure 3. Varroa mite population curve (without treatment or intervention) in relation to a honey bee population curve over a typical Ontario beekeeping season.

This underscores the importance of regularly monitoring for varroa mite levels throughout the beekeeping season as it can be easy to miss early population peaks, especially when growth falls outside of a typical years’ pattern. Furthermore, if beekeepers do not sample at numerous times throughout the season to know definitively if their varroa mite levels are low, then it becomes very difficult to dismiss varroa mites as a major factor of overwinter colony loss. Ultimately, it is important for beekeepers to understand that weather and seasonal conditions have an influence on varroa mite levels and that they have to adapt their management practices accordingly, especially as earlier springs and warmer weather lasting longer into the fall are becoming more common with climate change.

Overall, the available data demonstrates that both regular monitoring throughout the season and late season monitoring for varroa mites are important. In particular, late season sampling in September and in October, after varroa mite treatment has been applied, is important to ensure that the treatment used was effective at lowering the level of infestation and that reinfestation with varroa mites from nearby apiaries is not occurring.

Learn more about varroa mites.

Treatments for varroa mites

As part of a robust and sustainable integrated pest management strategy for varroa mites (and other pests and diseases) it is important that beekeepers have access to multiple types of treatments with different active ingredients. This allows for rotation of treatments with different active ingredients to delay the onset of pest resistance to such treatments and for use of formulations under different conditions (as timing and weather may vary). The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association is continuing to pursue the registration for 2 new varroa mite treatments. The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists, OMAFRA, and the Canadian Honey Council are assisting in different parts of the registration process. The province continues to highlight this as a priority for the health and sustainability of honey bees.

Honey production

Honey survey questionnaires were conducted using Survey Monkey and were emailed to registered Ontario commercial beekeepers to estimate the average honey production in the province. Responses were received from 13% of surveyed commercial beekeepers, representing approximately 4,500 colonies across the province.

Based on the responses, the estimated average honey production in Ontario was 33.5 kg (73.9 lb) per colony. This is a significant increase in honey production from 2021 (28.4 kg or 62.6 lb per colony) driven by weather favourable for nectar-producing conditions in many parts of Ontario.

Pollination services

Ontario honey bee colonies are sent to pollinate berry crops in eastern Canada (Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island). Approximately 22,000 honey bee colonies were moved from Ontario to eastern Canada in 2022 for the purpose of pollination. This number is down from the 35,000 honey bee colonies that left the province in 2021 for pollination services. This decrease in colony numbers may reflect a short-term decrease in demand in pollination services required from the blueberry sector in eastern Canada as well as the decrease in available colonies managed by Ontario beekeepers who provide pollination services, as both may fluctuate from year to year.

As is now set practice, Ontario and the eastern Canadian provinces worked collaboratively to define pre-transportation inspection requirements before colonies were shipped across provincial borders. The spread of small hive beetle from regions in Ontario to eastern Canada remained a concern for inspection requirements in 2022.

Honey bee mortality

Overwinter honey bee mortality

During the spring of 2022, a survey was used to estimate overwinter honey bee colony losses.  The survey was distributed to 203 registered commercial beekeepers. Responses were received from 54% of the commercial beekeepers surveyed representing 62,558 colonies across the province. Based on the results of the survey, commercial beekeepers reported an approximate 49% overall honey bee colony loss during the 2021-2022 winter. This was a significant increase from the 18% winter loss reported in the previous year (2020-2021). Small-scale beekeepers reported a slightly higher winter loss (51%) than that of the commercial sector.

Refer to the full report on 2022 overwinter losses.

In-season honey bee mortality

A honey bee incident is defined as atypical effects characterized by bee mortality, or sub-lethal effects observed in a honey bee colony and suspected by a beekeeper to be related to pesticide exposure. OMAFRA’s Agriculture Information Contact Centre receives reports of honey bee incidents in Ontario. These are shared with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) and Health Canada’s (HC) Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).

Upon review of the information provided for a reported incident, an inspection may be conducted of the reported yard(s) by either OMAFRA (for a honey bee health issue) or by MECP or HC (for a pesticide related issue). In 2022, OMAFRA received 0 in-season honey bee mortality incident reports.

Unusually high colony losses over the 2021-2022 winter

Honey bee mortality, within an individual colony, within a beekeeping operation, or at a larger scale within the population of honey bee colonies in Ontario, can be driven by a multitude of factors. These factors may include pests and diseases (for example, varroa mites), weather, environmental pressures (for example, pesticide exposures) and beekeeper management practices (for example, failure to take management steps to address colony health or a delay in doing so).

The likely factor in the high level of mortality experienced in the 2021-2022 winter based on available evidence is high levels of varroa mites. This is supported by published research (Guzman et al. 2010) and the field conditions and reports from the 2021 season.

From the 2021 Provincial Apiarist Report:

The spring of 2021 began uncharacteristically early with many colonies in Ontario beginning to produce honey bee brood and build-up in population much earlier (3 to 4 weeks) than typical years. This is supported by the fact that beekeeping operations reported a large number of swarming events throughout Ontario, as swarming is an indication of accelerated colony development.

In the 2021 season, multiple commercial beekeeping operations reported colonies “crashing” (that is colonies with a large proportion of the bees in the colony abruptly dying) with “noticeably” high varroa mite levels in mid-to-late summer. This is particularly concerning as it is not typical for colonies to succumb to varroa mite damage this early in the season. Typically, colonies with high varroa mites will die during winter, or if truly severe, in the fall. Reports of this very early damage is an indication that varroa mite levels increased earlier than usual in the 2021 beekeeping season.

Varroa mites continue to be a major challenge for beekeepers in Ontario and there are indications that varroa mites are becoming more difficult to manage. While new treatment options are important to pursue, beekeepers’ adherence to and improvement of integrated pest management practices is critical. In particular, regular sampling of varroa mites by beekeepers is key. There are well established resources such as workshops and courses available to beekeepers. Although education is not a guarantee of lower colony losses in all scenarios, regular review of best management practices and greater participation in training and education are some of the most accessible and powerful tools that beekeepers have available.