Ending the "Temporary" Border Closure
Getting around to old business, I mentioned recently that re-opening the border to two-way traffic in bees between Canada and the USA is now becoming a hot topic on both sides of the border.
I've been to a few meetings lately in Canada and the US, and the topic keeps coming up. Moreover, in the last year or two, both Joe Traynor and Lyle Johnston have been to Alberta, as has the head of the Almond Board of California. The reason
is simple: the almond industry desperately needs more and more bees every year and there are less and less available in the USA. After California and Florida, Alberta has more bee hives than any other North American state or province, Alberta is known
being progressive, entrepreneurial, and free-trading -- and many Alberta (and B.C.) beekeepers are already experts in providing effective and timely pollination.
Many US beekeepers are open to the idea of receiving Canadian hives sent south in the late fall, managing the hives over winter, placing them on almonds, splitting, re-queening, loading them, and
sending them back north. Alberta beekeepers, generally the most forward-looking, co-operative and open-minded group in Canada, are talking openly of the advantages of being able to send bees south in winter and, in return receiving splits made up by
US partners. With California's early spring, the southerners have an advantage over us and can build up the populations early, allowing for more splits and stronger hives to take advantage of our spring flows. With our early broodless period
in the fall, we have an advantage that southern US beekeepers lack, and, using that advantage, we could effectively treat the bees for mites in fall before shipping them south.
Almond production is the most important agricultural crop in California and acreage is growing rapidly at the same time as the number of bee hives in the US is declining. Almond prices
are high, and the growers, a powerful and well-financed group politically, desperately need a reliable and increasing supply of bees .
The low price of honey and the high price of almond pollination are stimulating these thoughts of north/south bee traffic, especially since it appears that there will be a serious squeeze in California
almond pollination in the next few years. There simply will not be enough hives available to meet the growers' needs, and as a result, almond pollination prices may get even higher. At the same time, beekeepers in Canada and the US are losing
money producing honey due to low world prices, and the honey glut does not seem likely to end soon, since even more new producers are coming online worldwide each year.
There are pros and cons for both US and Canada to re-opening the border to less restricted north/south flow of bees.
- Increased supply of bees for pollination in the US and Canada
- Cranberries, etc.
- Improved opportunities and profit picture for both US and Canadian beekeepers
- higher income per hive
- lower costs per operation
- reduced management risks
- increased honey production
- Increased co-operation and exchange of information
- More intensive use of capital and equipment
- Sharing of resources to the benefit of beekeepers in Canada and the USA
- Dependence on long distance trucking
- Risks of importing
- Africanized Honey Bees
- Small hive beetles
- more resistant mites and diseases
- Increased opportunities, competition and higher standards will challenge marginal operators. The following are critical to success:
- business & management skills
- contracts and agreements
- regulatory compliance
- ongoing education
- performance standards
- communication ability
What is the economic advantage of working with our US friends? Almonds are worth as much as $US 4,000 US per acre, and failure to get good pollination can cut yields down to almost nothing. As a result, growers
are currently paying up to $US 140 per hive for a hive or two per acre, but at almond current prices, even at $140/hive three hives per acre would pay and some growers are hiring that many. The almond set comes before the production season for most beekeepers
and the income is basically gravy. Beekeepers were quite willing to do the same job for $US 40 until recently, so we know that the costs are low to the beekeeper.
Assuming almond pollination prices stay steady, the 250,000 hives in Alberta alone are potentially worth over $CAD 41,000,000 per year in pollination fees. Add to that the fact that hives coming off pollination
can be split and re-queened before returning north, and the lower cost of wintering, and the value potential is far greater.
The above figure is considering gross receipts, not net, and, of course all the hives in Alberta would ever conceivably be delivered. However, if even half of them went -- and I am sure that over 100,000 (minimum)
would go tomorrow if the chance arose -- that is about $20 million dollars in increased cash flow to be divided up between partners in the US and Canada. Moreover, I am sure that there would be an expansion in hive numbers if the border opened
and there was a possibility of partnering with US beekeepers. Additionally, Alberta beekeepers would be able to lease US hives in summer.
We must also consider that beekeepers from B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan would also be interested, and that there are pollination problems -- and, as a result, opportunities -- in Eastern Canada and Maine as well.
Some Canadian beekeepers are frightened that big US operators would run up into Canada in summer and steal all the bee pasture, then run back to the US with all (our) honey. This is just plain silly. Of course
a few would come up, but we do have laws and taxes, and a home field advantage. They would find it much harder and riskier than working with Canadian partners. Smart US operators would partner with Canadians to share the bounty.
Manyseem to forget that we had US beekeepers up here in Canada before the current (supposedly) temporary border closure was instituted, and that they were good members of our beekeeping community, contributing ideas and co-operation,
hiring Canadians, obeying Canadian laws, and paying Canadian taxes. Some remain here today.
Why would that change much if the border re-opened? Besides, we Canadians could be running down into the US if we wished, but I doubt most would. I imagine most would partner with others across the border splitting
the duties and shipping the bees north and south in season, then visiting back and forth to check on how things were going, just like the old days, but with a bit more flexibility.
As for the worries about AHB, pests, and competition, there are many arguments presented against re-opening the border. Many are made out of ignorance, and most out of protectionist instincts. Some of the arguments
have some degree of merit, but I think that, if examined closely, most are largely hypothetical and put forth for less than completely honest reasons. I also can see that the overall economics are sufficiently favourable and that the lobbying power and financial
clout of the Almond Growers is such, that a re-opening is inevitable.
Others fear new pests and the AHB. In the US, these fears have been proven largely unfounded and/or manageable. Nothing good ever comes without some price to pay, and increased trade is no exception.
Marginal, unprogressive and inflexible operators are bound to find themselves threatened by change, and some undoubtedly will be overwhelmed. The question is, however, whether we should sacrifice opportunities for the capable and a promising future
to save those uncompetitive, subsistence beekeepers, or move on. The answer for each of us may well depend on whether we are one of the many who will benefit or one of those few who will lose.
Whether it happens this year, next year, or further down the road, the border will open, and now is the time to decide whether to prepare, get up to speed, and be a winner, or ignore the forces at play or even try to obstruct
progress and be a loser.
Some will choose to lie down in the roadway, but they will just waste their time, be run over, miss out on chances to take advantage of the opportunities, and become bitter. Better to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Like it or not, the parade is coming. Smart beekeepers will start thinking how to profit from this, not waste time fighting a losing battle.
Some argue that whatever happens in one part of the Canada must happen across the country, and that the border must open country-wide or not at all. This is absurd. The border was closed to Canada/US bee
traffic in Eastern and Western Canada in two stages, and at different times, so it can be opened selectively as well. Moreover, Alberta, by far the largest and most important beekeeping province, agreed only to a temporary, short term closure, and
that was almost two decades ago. It's time for the experiment to end.
Moreover, we all know that there are protectionist sections of the country and that they have, by their provincial regulations, removed themselves from trade in bees and equipment with the rest of Canada. If they will
not trade with us, then no one is forcing them to trade with the USA, but they should mind their own business, and not obstruct our trade.
We also know that these sections of the country have failed to thrive compared to the more free-trading and libertarian parts. If they wish to continue to stagnate, let them, but it is clear that, over time, protectionism
results in a smaller and smaller pie to share as opportunities run out and young people avoid the moribund industry, and that the free traders do far better, in spite of the inevitable minor problems that come with trade, due to the entrepreneurial spirit
and influx of new talent that flocks to a growing industry.
It is time to reduce and eliminate the barriers to free movement of bees and hives north and south, and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us so clearly. This will take some work, since after a
decade of our prolonged unilateral border embargo of US bees, APHIS in the US has restricted the entrance of Canadian bees and equipment. Nonetheless, this job is doable, and the sooner we start, the sooner we will all benefit. With the current
prices of honey, and the current debt loads on our young beekeepers, the sooner, the better.