CALGARY -- Scandia Honey imports 20,000 bee packages each season, which are used to start new hives or replace ones that die over winter.

This year, because of shipping restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, they got none.

Scandia Honey president Reece Chandler says that will put a strain on Canada’s honey supply.

Each hive can produce between 45 and 90 kilograms of honey, so the loss of 20,000 hives means a massive drop in honey production. Scandia is only one of several bee importers in Western Canada hit by the shipping restrictions.

"It will be a shortage of honey, It will be," said Chandler. "In the 25 years that I’ve been doing this, every year there’s just more of a demand for honey all over the world, especially Canadian honey, which is quite honestly one of the best and is sought after worldwide."

A bigger problem than honey may be the effect a drop in the number of beehives will have on agriculture. Bee hives are used by seed companies, in particular hybrid canola seed producers, to pollinate their crops to produce the seed stock for next year. Hybrid canola is one of the most common crops grown across Alberta.

"It's critical to our industry that we have pollinators. The seed canola business can't operate without pollinators," said Cory Nelson, owner and operator of Merlinds Farms.

"Having a shortage certainly makes things concerning. If you have lower numbers, it could affect the overall yield of your seed, this year or next."

A reduced number of honeybee hives might not affect canola output until next season. Many hybrid canola farmers have seeds stockpiled from last season, but they still need to pollinate and produce more seeds for next year’s crop.

Nelson farms both hybrid canola seed and alfalfa seed and has shielded himself slightly from a honeybee shortage by cultivating leaf cutter bees. While not great honey producers, leaf cutter bees are good pollinators. They are currently less widely used than honey bees, but Nelson thinks they will play a larger role augmenting the honey bees in commercial pollination going forward, because they can be raised and sourced in Canada.

"It’s good for the stability of the industry," said Nelson. "They both do an excellent job of pollinating and we do need both sources to add that stability to the industry.”

Backyard gardens

Ron Miksha, a local beekeeper and bee ecologist at the University of Calgary, says backyard gardeners likely won’t feel the effect of the honeybee shortage on their yields.

"Native bees do a much more effective job of taking care of people's gardens and their flowers in their backyard than honey bees do," he said.

"With the growth in gardening this year, native bees will be even more important in pollinating the fruit and vegetables in our own backyard."

Miksha is expecting more Calgarians to begin planting their own garden to avoid going to the grocery store, and says providing a space for native bees to thrive will make home gardens blossom.

"What people should do is leave a little bit of 'rough land' on their properties and if everybody did that there would be more places for these bees to hibernate when they have to survive the winter," Miksha said.

"If your yard is groomed from one end to the other and you use a lot of pesticides to get rid of dandelions, then you are really injuring the success of the native bees."

With files from Sean Marks