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Two bees for the best of both worlds

Honey bees are raised by beekeepers all over Canada. In 2015, there were more than 720,000 colonies in Canada used for honey production or for pollination services. Honey bees are just one species of bee used in Canadian agriculture with some farms making use of the other species’ unique traits.

One such farm is Witdouck Farms, located near Iron Springs, Alberta. For three generations, Witdouck Farms has produced a variety of crops and honey, while also offering pollination services to other farms in the area. Interestingly, they do so with both honey bees and leaf-cutter bees.

Witdouck Farms’ beekeeper, Landen Stronks explains the difference between the two species as “cats and dogs.” Leaf-cutter bees are solitary bees, meaning they don’t form colonies or hives like honey bees, and they don’t collect nectar to make honey. When it comes to providing pollination services, both species have their upsides and downsides, but using both is a good form of risk management. “On hot days leaf-cutters are more efficient pollinators, while honey bees will be more active on cooler days,” explains Stronks. Leaf-cutter bees don’t fly as far to seek out pollen and must be closer to the crops in order to be effective, while honey bees are much more prolific fliers.

One of the biggest benefits to using leaf-cutter bees is their resilience. They’re not affected by varroa mites, which are one of the most devastating factors affecting honey bee colony health, and there are also few diseases that affect them.

The biggest downside to leaf-cutters is the lack of honey production. Beekeepers often use their hives for both honey production and pollination services, and while pollination is integral to the business, honey production is integral to making a profit.

Still, pollination is a major business in Western Canada, and Witdouck Farms uses their bees largely to pollinate canola and alfalfa fields. At home, the farm benefits from having bees on site, whereas most farms have to bring in outside honey bee hives. This is a relationship widely utilized throughout the Prairies, and one that is mutually beneficial for both farmers and beekeepers.

Between farmers and beekeepers, Stronks believes the most important skill is communication. “Keeping a good relationship always comes down to working with your neighbour,” says Stronks.

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