Sweet success for beekeeping industry

Wed, May 24, 2017

The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and the bees are buzzing and making honey at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU).

The steady drone of honeybees is familiar background noise for Alex Schellenberg, a student in KPU’s commercial beekeeping program. Schellenberg first became interested in beekeeping after his mom got a hive for their family farm, but was too nervous to go near it.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” admits Schellenberg. “But after a little trial and I realized this was a career path I could go down and enrolled at KPU.”

Only in its second year, KPU’s commercial beekeeping program has a dozen beekeepers-in-training starting their five-month paid practicums this month just in time for the nationally recognized day of the honeybee on May 29.

Taught by John Gibeau — owner of the Honeybee Centre in Cloverdale and a beekeeper with more than 50 years of experience — KPU’s program covers beehive care, disease management, bee botany, integrated pest management, livestock production and colony management, food safety, processing, packaging and marketing, and honeybee business planning, management and growth.

According to Gibeau, there has been a shortage of beekeepers and honeybees in B.C. for over a decade. “Each year, literally thousands of beehives are imported from Alberta to satisfy demands for blueberry pollination in the Fraser Valley alone.”

Pollination-dependent crops comprise an increasing portion of the B.C. agricultural landscape, with honeybee pollination already responsible for more than $200 million per year in agricultural production.

“There is an increasing demand for locally-sourced food, both for healthy eating and to enhance regional food security,” he explains. “Beekeepers contribute to this demand directly through honey production and indirectly through increased crop yield from pollination services.” Gibeau estimates that the local market could consume up to 50 times more than what is currently produced.

The first class of students to finish the program sold out of all the honey they made while on course in a matter of weeks. Those same former students are all currently working for beekeeping operations with the exception of one who returned to school. Half of the graduates work for commercial beekeepers that maintain over 25,000 hives. The other half are establishing their own cottage industry beekeeping businesses, and have added 100 hives to help pollinate B.C.’s plentiful berry fields.

Soon Schellenberg and the rest of his cohort will add to the growing number of B.C. commercial beekeepers. Schellenberg is already lined up to take over the hives at Wagner Hills Farms Society, a working farm that rehabilitates men suffering from addiction through skills training.

“I’ll be overseeing the colonies at the farm and training the guys there,” said Shellenberg. “It’s going to feel good to pass along that knowledge and training in beekeeping that I’ve learned from John.”

For more information on KPU's commercial beekeeping program, visit kpu.ca/cps/commercial-beekeeping.

Photos of Schellenberg and Gibeau are available on Flickr.

By Tatiana Tomljanovic

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