2019, black year for european beekeepers

MILAN | 2019 is a dark year for many beekeepers in europe, including the French and the Italians, who talk about the worst harvest in their history, because of the vagaries of the weather.

Production in sharp decline

In Italy, the main agricultural union, the Coldiretti, reported a “black year”, with “a harvest almost divided by two,” compared to 23 300 tons collected in 2018.

In France, the harvest is expected to be the worst on record”, also believes the national Union of French beekeeping (Unaf): “less than 9 000 tonnes”, which is nearly four times less than in the 1990s.

After 30 000 tonnes of honey harvested in 2018, a record that made Romania a “champion” european production is expected to be “below average (25 000 tonnes) in recent years”, said to AFP Constantin Dobrescu, vice-president of the association Romapis.

And in Spain, the first country to Romania in the number of hives, the harvest is at half-mast since 2015, with a decline of 5.2% in 2017 and a 2018 campaign “not up to expectations”, according to the ministry of Agriculture.

The climate is responsible

The Coldiretti explains this fall by “the development of the abnormal climate”: from January to early September, it has identified more than a thousand extreme weather events in Italy (+56% compared to 2018), between hail, storms, torrential rain, wind and heat waves.

The Unaf evokes also a “climate catastrophe”. While the colonies were very populous in the spring, the cold suddenly was impaired, and then came the heat wave at the end of June. In some areas of the south of france, the heat melted the wax in the hives, trapping bees.

In Romania, “the lack of precipitation during the fall and winter last has severely affected the cultures of oilseed rape”, leading to a “honey production is very low,” according to the bee-keeper Marian Patrascu.

And now? The fall of production in Italy is expected to result in a decrease in the revenues of 73 million euros this year, to which are added the expenses related to the nutrition of bees, many beekeepers have been forced to lead, the colonies dying from hunger.

Beekeepers the worst off will not cover their costs or fair, and the situation will be particularly complicated for young people indebted farmers.

All hope for an improvement of the climatic conditions the next year.

But the president of the Unaf, Gilles Lanio, fears “a backlash”. To save the hives, “bees have triggered movements, reflexes, and killed all the males to eliminate mouths to feed, useless”: because of the lack of males for mating, there is a risk of having “a deficit of queens” in spring next year.

Moreover, we are assisted in recent years to an excess death rate of bees linked to an “epidemic” of the parasitic mite varroa, a development that is “out of control” the hornet asian in Europe, and “the intense use of pesticides in agriculture”, according to the report Cyclops, which makes every year an inventory of raw materials.

Honey chinese pointed the finger

While their production fall, the beekeepers also draw the alarm bells vis-à-vis the massive imports of honey in china — accused of being “adulterated”, cut for example with the syrup.

No european legislation requires producers to specify the origin of the honey. Appears as well on the label “mixture of honeys originating and non-originating goods of the european Community”, even though the product may contain 99 % of honey chinese, and only 1 % of honey French.

In Spain, the beekeepers have expressed on several occasions to claim “anti-dumping measures” in the face of a honey-chinese low-cost. The authorities plan to impose new obligations for labelling with, for example, the percentage of honey by country of origin.

In France, a decree should come into effect on the 1st January 2020: “all the countries that have provided more than 20% of the pot will need to be listed in order of importance”, explains Dr. Lanio.

What about northern Europe ?

In a summer of 2018 particularly hot, beekeeping has experienced a resurgence of interest in Norway and Sweden, even if it remains a marginal activity.

According to the Norwegian Association of beekeepers, which now has 4,000 members, against 2 500 a few years ago, the production revolves around 1 300 tonnes, far from satisfying the local market.

In Denmark, where 2018 has been marked by an increase of the production, the challenge is also the competition of the honeys foreigners, who cost less. Result: the association of professional apiculturists estimated that its members have more than 800 tons of inventory on the arm.