Copyright allen dick 2003 This article may not be reproduced in part or whole, by any means, without written permission from the author

Comparing Beekeeping Stats
Examining Industry Decline: Comparing Figures from the USA and
from Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada

By Allen Dick, Retired Commercial Beekeeper


The above chart was my starting point in a voyage of discovery.  Obviously, something happened in 1987.  An industry that was growing quickly, abruptly ended its expansion and went into a decade of decline, losing both hive numbers and beekeepers.  Only after a decade, did it begin to grow again, and then slowly.  What caused this decline?  Can we deduce from the data, whether it was the advent of mites?  Was it the disruption of traditional bee supplies from the Southern US?  Was it something else?

Inasmuch as the mites came in and spread slowly after 1987 -- varroa showed up in our outfit in the late nineties -- mites can hardly be the culprit.  We can see a large and immediate drop in 1987 and 1988, well before the mites filtered in or could have an appreciable effect!

Moreover, we can see (proof below) that -- when the effect of price declines in the US are filtered out -- US hive numbers were not visibly affected by mites.  However, the Canadian prairie provinces all experienced similar continuing declines in numbers of both beekeepers and hives after 1987.

Although the border closure was instituted to prevent damage to our industry, many now believe that the border closure was, itself the cause of the decline.  After closure, vital supplies of replacement stock became harder to get, less reliable in quality, and much more expensive.  Moreover, after border closure, make-up packages could not be ordered in late spring if earlier packages or overwintered colonies needed boosting.  Even obtaining queens became more difficult, and supplies are currently rationed to the extent than beekeepers routinely find they must do without.

I began with this chart and soon saw what I considered proof that the watershed event was closure of the border, and that the economic cost was greater than we would have incurred if we had just carried on.  Of course, we had no way of knowing that at the time, and, for that matter, many have benefited from delaying the coming of the mites to their area.

The point is that the loss to the industry, our communities, and the country -- not to mention the beekeepers who went broke -- was great, likely much greater than the benefits.  However, I leave it to you to decide as you examine the charts below.  I doubt that, even with overwhelming evidence, that we could move some whose minds are made up

Note: All the studies use constant dollars.  Prices are adjusted for inflation, using the COLA figures appropriate to the country in question, so that they can be compared from year to year.  Total return per hive is used throughout and is calculated by measuring the average crop for the year times the average price (in constant dollars) at the time.

Note:  The position of the lines in the various charts is not significant, since the scales have been adjusted arbitrarily to place the lines where they can be compared. 

The shape and the slope of each plot is what is meaningful, and allows comparisons.


1.) Beekeeping in the USA from 1986 to 2002
The relationships between total return in constant dollars and hive numbers


US - 1986 to 2002                                                            US - 1986 to 2002
       Key: Return Price Colonies                                                                 Price Colonies (return is held constant at 100%)

The graph at left shows returns per hive (adjusted to 1986$) in brown, price (in 1986$) in blue, and number of colonies in red.  It is hard, or impossible, to interpret, since three variables are all shown.  Therefore the chart on the right was created, holding return constant to see what happened to hive numbers and number of beekeepers independent of return.

The graph at right is 'stacked', with total adjusted return held as a constant. Surprisingly -- contrary to popular wisdom --  when total return is removed from the picture, the number of hives appears essentially flat, suggesting that, in the USA, hive numbers have an almost direct relationship to total return and no relation to the coming of mites.

This revelation discounts arguments that factors like mites and urbanization have been significant factors in the US honey industry decline during this period.  Apparently, the return per hive on honey production is the single governing factor.

2.) Beekeeping in Alberta from 1986 to 2002
The relationships between total return in constant dollars and hive numbers


Alberta - 1986 to 2002                                                           Alberta - 1986 to 2002
       Key: Smoothed price  Beekeepers  Colonies                                          Beekeepers  Colonies (return is held constant at 100%)

Compare the US charts (top) to these Alberta charts created using the same bases, and see what you think. 

After 1986, it is clear that, Alberta hive numbers and the number of Alberta beekeepers dropped drastically, independent of returns, and continued to drop until demand by hybrid pollination caused a 40,000 hive 'bump' in hive numbers in the late 1980sand '90s.

The advent of hybrid canola pollination essentially created a new source of reliable cash flow for Alberta beekeepers.  Seed production in Alberta is essentially a new and profitable alternate industry which requires and can pay for bee hives.  Unlike honey production, which has uncertain returns, seed companies will pay whatever it costs to obtain the tens of thousands of hives they absolutely need to pollinate the thousands of acres of seed they grow annually.

In Alberta, unlike much of the US, beekeepers must choose between honey and pollination.  The season is short and Alberta pollination takes place at the time when the major flow is on.  Due to crowding and other factors, hives on pollination produce much less honey -- 1/2 to 1/3 -- compared to hives placed on locations for honey production.

The conclusions are obvious -- honey production returns were not the factor responsible for honey industry decline in Alberta from 1986 through 2002. 

Other factors were responsible.  Inasmuch as mite problems were as bad or worse in the USA, and mites arrived earlier and spread more quickly there -- and because we had the opportunity to learn from watching the US experience -- It seems clear that mites were not the direct cause of Alberta's decline.

3.) Beekeeping in Saskatchewan from 1986 to 2002
The relationships between total return in constant dollars and hive numbers

Ok, I'm a bear for punishment, and also a bit curious.  I dug up the Sask stats and got to work.  

Same conclusions.  Hive numbers increased up until 1987 independent of return, then began to decline thereafter.

There is a third chart shown here, on the right that is the same as the second, but going back to 1981. It is useful, since it shows how the number of hives increased and the number of beekeepers was flat, in relation to return, until 1987.  After 1987, both the number of beekeepers and the number of hives went into decline relative to return.

I should mention that many the Saskatchewan figures appear to be very rounded, much like estimates.  I also wonder how the production figures are compiled.

I also wonder if the fact that one Saskatchewan beekeeper exported millions of pounds of of honey, purchased from nearby provinces, influenced the figures in recent years.

4.) Beekeeping in Manitoba from 1980 to 2000
The relationships between total return in constant dollars and hive numbers


Here is Manitoba.  I only have data going forward to 2000, but this series goes back to 1980, not 1986, like some of the other data shown above.  Inasmuch as the region of interest centers around 1987, the lack of 2001 and 2002 is no great handicap, but, hopefully, I will fill in the last several years when I come cross the data.

These charts show trends that are very similar to those seen in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In all three provinces, the number of beekeepers and number of hives go into decline at the same time: the year the Canada/US border was closed.  At the same time, the US beekeeping industry did not show a similar downturn that can be blamed on anything but the effects of the strong dollar.  The US was on the frontline against the mites, and should have shown a decline correlated to mite appearance, if mites alone were responsible for decline anywhere.  However, all the US decline correlates nearly perfectly with lower total returns caused by a strong US dollar and competition from imports.

The word on the street is that some Manitoba data have been recently found to be very inaccurate.  It is difficult to reach good conclusions unless good statistics are available for analysis.  No matter; assuming, as suggested to me, that the figures are on the high side and exaggerate the prosperity of beekeeping in Manitoba, they do not do so sufficiently to mask the unmistakable downtrend.

4.) Beekeeping in Ontario from 1982 to 2000
The relationships between total return in constant dollars and hive numbers


Okay.  I know it's after 1:30 AM, but I had to do just one more set of charts.  I had to do Ontario, and there you go! 

In Ontario, we also see a drastic decline in hive numbers and beekeepers after the mid-'80s.  

Note: I see that the large graph on the right is missing and I'll have to dig up the data again and fix this part when I have a chance, but it looks as if Ontario has suffered under border closure as well.

US Data References

Other Data References

The Manitoba data was received by private communication

Copyright allen dick 2003 This article may not be reproduced in part or whole, by any means, without written permission from the author