Let's talk honey

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Canadian Megatrends

Nearly every home in Canada has it and you can also find it on the counters of your favourite coffee shop. Some claim it has medicinal qualities; most agree it tastes sweet. Let's talk honey.

Statistics Canada has been tracking the production of honey in Canada since 1924, when 22,205 beekeepers tending 280,010 honey producing colonies produced 16.8 million pounds of honey. Ontario accounted for about two-thirds of production in 1924, while Quebec accounted for one-quarter.

Beekeepers aid the war effort

During the Second World War, the number of beekeepers rose from 27,150 in 1940 to 43,340 in 1945. Over the same period, the number of honey-producing colonies rose by one-third to 522,530. There were several reasons for this increase. Beeswax was a key component in making ammunition belts for the war effort. Also, sugar was rationed in Canada in 1942 and some people turned to honey as a substitute. While there was an uptick in the number of beekeepers and colonies, honey production remained similar to prewar levels.

The decade following the war saw a drop in the number of colonies, beekeepers and production, and by the mid-1950s all three were at record lows.

Honey production moves west in the 1960s

Honey production picked up in the late 1950s. It was also at this time that production started shifting to Western Canada. By the 1960s, the Prairie provinces were producing twice as much honey each year as Ontario, with Alberta emerging as the most important honey-producing region in the country. New beekeeping techniques were partially responsible for the shift in production to the West, but another reason is that bee colonies on the Prairies were considerably more productive.

For example, from 2010 to 2014, annual honey production in Canada averaged 124 pounds per colony, led by Saskatchewan (192 pounds), Manitoba (176 pounds) and Alberta (126 pounds). Average yields in Manitoba were twice those in Ontario (86 pounds) and Quebec (81 pounds) and more than three times those in British Columbia (55 pounds).

A golden age of honey

Honey production peaked in the 1980s, and in 1984 a then record 95.5 million pounds were produced, up threefold from the mid-1950s. From 1970 to 1983, the number of beekeepers more than doubled to 21,210, while colony numbers rose by three-quarters to a record high of 707,375 in 1986.

Chart 1: Honey production in Canada
Description for Chart 1

The title of the graph is "Chart 1 Honey production in Canada."
This is a line chart.
There are in total 91 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 10,000 and ends at 110,000 with ticks every 10,000 points.
There are 1 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "thousands of pounds"
The units of the horizontal axis are years from 1925 to 2015.
The title of series 1 is "Honey production."
The minimum value is 19,526 occurring in 1926.
The maximum value is 106,599 occurring in 2006.

Chart 1 Honey production in Canada
year Production of honey, thousands of pounds
1925 19,977
1926 19,526
1927 23,231
1928 22,225
1929 23,164
1930 30,260
1931 31,324
1932 26,213
1933 32,094
1934 34,216
1935 33,646
1936 37,995
1937 27,012
1938 45,702
1939 34,376
1940 28,215
1941 33,221
1942 28,049
1943 39,492
1944 36,264
1945 33,020
1946 23,185
1947 37,078
1948 45,145
1949 31,481
1950 28,351
1951 40,909
1952 31,230
1953 26,384
1954 19,850
1955 25,031
1956 24,272
1957 32,051
1958 27,509
1959 31,527
1960 32,224
1961 35,058
1962 30,713
1963 42,142
1964 36,662
1965 49,157
1966 44,502
1967 45,682
1968 33,372
1969 53,312
1970 51,041
1971 52,016
1972 50,599
1973 54,629
1974 45,786
1975 46,419
1976 56,095
1977 61,844
1978 67,426
1979 72,545
1980 64,450
1981 76,655
1982 67,302
1983 85,461
1984 95,454
1985 79,630
1986 75,044
1987 86,799
1988 81,798
1989 60,950
1990 70,764
1991 69,680
1992 66,867
1993 67,588
1994 75,498
1995 66,916
1996 59,475
1997 68,366
1998 101,595
1999 81,789
2000 70,232
2001 78,016
2002 81,730
2003 76,285
2004 75,490
2005 79,607
2006 106,599
2007 69,402
2008 64,895
2009 70,362
2010 81,672
2011 79,824
2012 90,759
2013 76,468
2014 85,551
2015 95,296

The varroa mite plagues honey production

In 1989, varroa mites?a parasite that is one of the leading causes of bee mortality?first appeared in Canada, resulting in the lowest production totals in over a decade. By 1991, the number of colonies had fallen by one-third from 1986 to 498,780, while the number of beekeepers was also down by one-third to 13,096.

The higher costs associated with controlling the pest led to an exodus of beekeepers, especially part-time beekeepers, from the industry throughout the 1990s and into the mid-2000s. By 2008, the number of beekeepers had fallen by almost two-thirds from the mid-1980s to a record low of 6,931.

Beekeepers make a comeback

While the number of beekeepers fell sharply in the 1990s, the beekeepers who remained managed to get more honey out of fewer colonies. In 1998, a record 101.6 million pounds of honey was produced, even though Canada had one-quarter fewer colonies than during the peak years of the 1980s.

While honey production has increased since 2000, it remains an unstable business. For example, a new record of 106.6 million pounds of honey were produced in 2006, while 2007 and 2008 totals fell by more than a third.

Chart 2: Beekeeping in Canada, by region, 2015
Description for Chart 2

The title of the graph is "Chart 2 Beekeeping in Canada, by region, 2015."
This is a column clustered chart.
There are in total 7 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 0 and ends at 3,000 with ticks every 500 points.
There are 1 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "number of beekeepers."
The horizontal axis is "Region."
The title of series 1 is "Number of beekeepers by region."
The minimum value is 315 and it corresponds to "Quebec."
The maximum value is 2,562 and it corresponds to "Ontario."

Chart 2 Beekeeping in Canada, by region, 2015
Region Number of beekeepers
Atlantic Region 731
Quebec 315
Ontario 2,562
Manitoba 607
Saskatchewan 955
Alberta 1,000
British Columbia 2,363

It's about more than honey

While honey is the most obvious handiwork of a bee, it is not the most important economically. Bees are crucial to the pollination of a host of plants, including fruits, vegetables and crops, such as canola.

Canola was by far the most important bee pollinated crop in 2014, with sales topping $7.3 billion, followed by soybeans at just over $2.5 billion. Blueberries placed third with $265 million in sales in 2014, followed by apples ($211 million), cranberries ($114 million) and carrots ($94 million).

The bee's importance as a pollinator was one reason why Ontario and British Columbia were home to over half (57%) of all beekeepers in Canada in 2015, while their honey production (13 million pounds) was less than one-sixth the size of the three Prairie provinces (78 million pounds).

Chart 3: Bee colonies in Canada
Description for Chart 3

The title of the graph is "Chart 3 Bee colonies in Canada."
This is a line chart.
There are in total 91 categories in the horizontal axis. The vertical axis starts at 250,000 and ends at 750,000 with ticks every 50,000 points.
There are 1 series in this graph.
The vertical axis is "number of colonies."
The units of the horizontal axis are years from 1925 to 2015.
The title of series 1 is "Number of colonies by year."
The minimum value is 307,490 occurring in 1926.
The maximum value is 721,106 occurring in 2015.

Chart 3 Bee colonies in Canada
Year Number of colonies
1925 309,400
1926 307,490
1927 323,750
1928 335,670
1929 345,880
1930 362,140
1931 350,500
1932 349,290
1933 328,210
1934 328,370
1935 356,958
1936 370,790
1937 386,360
1938 394,030
1939 405,960
1940 398,540
1941 409,740
1942 427,050
1943 449,650
1944 508,470
1945 522,530
1946 541,760
1947 588,700
1948 569,800
1949 473,450
1950 430,040
1951 406,340
1952 385,550
1953 341,300
1954 339,400
1955 323,600
1956 330,000
1957 325,700
1958 332,700
1959 330,700
1960 327,340
1961 336,910
1962 340,470
1963 360,060
1964 382,240
1965 413,030
1966 429,860
1967 445,070
1968 414,060
1969 419,060
1970 407,560
1971 401,420
1972 417,300
1973 437,910
1974 473,570
1975 508,450
1976 530,930
1977 546,490
1978 566,900
1979 577,200
1980 607,800
1981 633,500
1982 663,450
1983 684,850
1984 704,650
1985 693,600
1986 707,375
1987 698,780
1988 608,420
1989 544,290
1990 531,955
1991 498,780
1992 501,259
1993 502,656
1994 501,256
1995 520,982
1996 509,648
1997 519,988
1998 563,614
1999 588,824
2000 599,863
2001 602,328
2002 588,485
2003 563,330
2004 597,890
2005 615,541
2006 628,401
2007 589,254
2008 570,070
2009 592,120
2010 620,291
2011 637,920
2012 690,037
2013 667,397
2014 696,252
2015 721,106

Honey today

There has been much concern over the health and future of honey bees in Canada. However, the most recent data show that the value of honey sold by Canadian producers in 2015 rose by 10.9% from a year earlier to a record high of $232 million. Production was up 11.4% to 95.3 million pounds, while the number of colonies increased 3.6% to a record high 721,106. At the same time, the number of beekeepers fell 4.1% to 8,533 at the national level, with most of the drop occurring in Ontario, down 21.5% to 2,562.

Definitions

Beekeeper: Refers to one person, family or business that engages in beekeeping, especially as a means of livelihood.

Honey producing colony: Refers to one hive of honeybees which is kept and managed primarily for the purpose of honey production. The colony may also be used for pollination purposes.

References

Katz, N. and A. Ragoo. 2013. Statistical Overview of the Canadian Honey Industry, 2012. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Melhim, A., A. Weersink, Z. Daly and N. Bennett. 2010. Beekeeping in Canada: Honey and Pollination Outlook. University of Guelph.

Contact information

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Duncan Currie (Duncan.Currie@canada.ca; 613-614-1587), Communications Division.

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