Bees and COVID-19

Letter to the Editor

At this time when any good news is welcome, I’d like to share with you the amazing story of one our essential but unsung workers in agriculture – the honeybee -- buzzing around and pollinating the crops that nourish us. But they can’t do their job without a little help.

As COVID-19 began affecting air travel worldwide, bee travel plans were affected as well. This was a real cause for concern for a large number of farmers in Canada who rely on 250,000 imported queen honey bees that are imported each year, and 40,000 small bee colonies to pollinate vast acreages of some of our favorite food, including blueberries, cranberries, tree fruits, some vegetables, hybrid canola seeds and not to mention – honey.

Honeybees typically arrive in Canada by plane each spring in climate-controlled cargo holds. They are released into flowering fields across this country, where they are essential to producing key crops in Canada. In total, the value of honey bees to pollinating Canadian crops can represent more than $2 billion annually.

Therefore, as COVID-19 began to reshape our reality, there was a real possibility that the bees would not be imported. This could have meant fewer crops and less honey for the 2020 harvest. The outlook was grim.

Recognizing the urgency, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and the Canadian Honey Council sprung into action to find a solution. All the stops were pulled and partners like Air Canada answered the call to help fly in queen bees from the United States, and move them by plane within Canada. The partners are now working to finalize the transport of the first queens for the spring season, aboard Air Canada planes from California, with more to come later.

I am so proud to see all the players working like bees to collaborate and deliver a solution just in time for spring. This initiative will make a difference for producers and consumers across Canada and ensure the unsung workers of Canadian agriculture keep on buzzing.

The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau,
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food