Government funding leaves bitter taste with commercial beekeepers

“I’m not aware of any commercial beekeeper that got any funding”

One local commercial beekeeper isn’t getting a sweet deal on government funding.

Dickie Bee Honey, located on Innisfil’s 3rd Line, applied through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership but came up empty.

“I’m not aware of any commercial beekeeper that got any funding,” Sandi Dickie said. “Here we are with a 6,000-square-foot facility, we’re growing and hiring more people.

“It just drives me a little batty when we don’t qualify for anything.”

Dickie Bee Honey has six full-time and six part-time employees, she said, but was told it didn’t qualify for funding.

Since last September, the federal and provincial governments have committed more than $221,000 to support 135 projects to help beekeepers make improvements to better manage pests, diseases and other stressors, and grow their bee-related business.

Funding has been provided through a targeted application intake under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership; eligible applications are being received and assessed on a continuous basis, while funding is available, the province said this month.

Projects supported through this intake include equipment to help managed honey bees survive during the winter months, projects to detect and manage pests such as varroa mites (large, external parasites which feed on the body fluids of adult and developing honey bees), technology to enhance production, equipment to prepare operations for managing small hive beetles (a honey bee pest capable of damaging and stressing colonies and spoiling honey), as well as market and customer research to help increase sales.

Dickie said her operation could use funding to help offset the cost of losing 30-40% of its bees during the winter, attributed in part to pesticides and mites. Dickie Bee Honey has just more than 1,000 hives on its property.

One offshoot from the funding is that smaller beekeepers buy goods from Dickie Bee Honey – live bees and beekeeping supplies, for example – and some of the money spent comes from the federal/provincial funding.

But nothing directly to Dickie Bee Honey.

“This is the history here. We’ve never been granted anything. We never qualified for anything. We were always turned down,” she said. “Did we take advantage of it? Yes, we tried to. Did we succeed? No, we got turned down. Listen, it’s not for lack of trying.”

Dickie said there would be no more applications for government funding.

On the other hand, she’s justifiably proud of DickieBee Honey, a fourth-generation beekeeping business started in the 1930s which continues to thrive.

And bees play an integral role in this province’s agriculture.

In addition to producing honey, Ontario-managed honey bees pollinate a wide range of crops – including apples, apricots, asparagus, blueberries, squash and canola, both within Ontario and in other provinces.

“Many of our agricultural crops depend on the health and productivity of our pollinators,” said federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, “and this regional approach to strengthening Ontario’s honey bee populations plays a vital role in allowing our high-value crops to succeed.”

Managed honey bees pollinate 80% of all agricultural crops requiring insect pollination, and account for $395 million in pollination services to Ontario farmers and contribute $30 million a year in honey sales.

“Honey bees play an essential role in Ontario’s agricultural sector and in maintaining healthy ecosystems,” said Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman. “That’s why it’s so important to support and sustain the health of our honey bees. 

“This investment (the Canadian Agricultural Partnership) has helped over 135 beekeepers so far to equip themselves with better tools to prevent diseases, improve winter survival, adopt best management practices and grow their businesses.”

Honey bees continue to face significant challenges in Ontario.

Their health is complex and influenced by several factors, including diseases, pests, genetics, environmental stresses and extreme weather.

The Canadian Agricultural Partnership is a five-year,$3-billion commitment by federal, provincial and territorial government in Canada to support the country’s agri-food and agri-products sectors. 

This initiative is delivered through the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association (OSCIA) and supports specific beekeeping activities in two project categories – advancing beekeeper business capacity and honey bee health management.

The current application stage runs until Jan. 29, 2020.

How to apply, program guidelines and application forms can be found at ontariosoilcrop.org.

images via Bob Bruton