A honey of a career

Kwantlen Polytechnic University to launch first commercial beekeeping program in the province at Cloverdale campus.

KPU is starting the first commercial beekeeping training program in B.C.

A new program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) is about to create quite a buzz.

The university will introduce B.C.’s first commercial beekeeping program in January, and by November 2016 its graduates will have the skills to work in, manage and grow existing beekeeping operations or establish and grow their own diversified cottage beekeeping business of up to 300 hives.

“There is a bee shortage in B.C.,” said Jim Pelton, executive director of Continuing and Professional Studies at KPU. “Our aim is to bolster B.C.’s beekeeping industry by providing the training that will allow our students to meet the province’s growing pollination demands.”

The program is timely. 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.

Based on three hives per acre, the province’s 20,000 acres of blueberry farms alone require 60,000 bee colonies for pollination. With only 45,000 commercial bee colonies in B.C., these farms import colonies from Alberta to meet demand.

The 16 initial graduates of KPU’s program could increase B.C.’s honey production by $250,000 per year while supporting more than $6 million in agricultural production, even if they just worked part-time managing small 50-colony operations.

And those figures would gradually expand, noted Pelton, as KPU’s beekeeping program is forecast to grow from 16 students per year in each of its first three years, to 24 students per year after that.

“Our graduates will have the skills to work in, manage and grow existing beekeeping operations or establish and grow their own diversified cottage beekeeping business that could include pollination, honey and apitherapy,” said Pelton.

John Gibeau, president of the Honeybee Centre in Cloverdale, helped develop the program outline and will be part of the advisory committee of apiculture industry partners who are guiding curriculum development in preparation for the first student cohort in January.

The curriculum will include a work experience practicum, where students can gain a real-world perspective of the industry.

Gibeau, who has some 45 years experience as a beekeeper, called the program a “sweet deal” because it sets up grads for family-supporting careers, plus includes a five-month paid practicum equivalent to a trades apprenticeship.

Then there is the profession itself, said Gibeau. He estimates a family can bring in revenue of about $100,000 a year and work until retirement.

“A career in professional beekeeping offers the freedom and independence of entrepreneurship, and you’re outdoors where it’s fresh, you’re grounded and you’re surrounded by nature with your kids. It’s a wonderful career.”

From a market perspective, Gibeau says honey continues to gain popularity as the healthiest sweetener, driving worldwide demand and sending prices soaring. Gibeau’s Honeybee Centre offers three-day hobbyist courses and has taught just under 1,000 people over the years, but less than a handful of those hobbyists have gone on to become commercial beekeepers.

“The timing is right for this program and it’s the sweetest deal ever,” he quipped.

Students in the KPU program will receive instruction in beehive care, bee disease management, bee botany, integrated pest management, livestock production and colony management, food safety, processing, packaging and marketing, and bee business planning, management and growth.

Funding of $350,000 for the beekeeping program was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture through programs delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick congratulated KPU on offering an important program and for training the next generation of beekeepers. Honeybees contribute an estimated $272 million to the provincial economy as pollinators of crops.

Bee facts

• Honeybees play a critical role in the production of many crops, representing a value of over $14 billion per year for Canada and the U.S.

• Bee health is influenced by weather; pests and diseases; and the effects of management tools and practices across agricultural sectors.

• About one-third of annual global food production is derived from crops which benefit from pollinators, much of which is accomplished by honeybees.

• Some fruits do not develop without pollination from honeybees. Other fruits may develop but will be of poorer quality and in smaller amounts.

– Contributed