CALGARY -- The province and the federal government are teaming up to help Alberta beekeepers who were forced to buy new queens after several colonies experienced high rates of winter loss last season.

As part of the Alberta Beekeeper Stock Replacement Program, queens purchased between April 1 and Sept. 30 will be eligible for funding and the deadline for submissions is being extended to Jan. 29, 2021.

“Bees are incredibly important for Alberta crop and hay land," said Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen in a release. "Alberta is the largest honey producer in Canada and these program changes will help diversify and strengthen our agriculture sector.”

Announced in June, the Alberta Beekeepers Stock Replacement Program is described as "up to $1 million to help beekeepers offset the increased costs of colony replacements due to COVID-19."

Officials say importing affordable hive replacements from traditional sources like New Zealand and Australia has been more difficult during the pandemic.

"The amended program will retroactively support queen purchases between April 1 and Sept. 30 on a 30 per cent cost-share basis to a maximum of $15 per queen," read a release.

To replace winter losses, bee colonies are split and a new queen introduced. Most queens are imported into Canada.

Alberta produces about 18.6 million kilograms of honey annually, contributing $67 million to the economy.