Honey Bee Zen

On Agriculture Minister Lana Popham’s Support For Bees in B.C.

March is always a frenetic time for us. We’re just coming out of winter, full of hope for our bees and eager for the new season.

It is also the month that delivers new information and ideas, and when theoretical information can transform into practical use.

I’m speaking about the B.C. Honey Producers Association’s semi-annual education days, which just took place online on the weekend.

I’m one of the organizers of the program, along with Dan Mawson, the other vice-president of the association. This year we brought in some speakers who, frankly, completely altered how we think about the most basic elements of our beekeeping craft. I’ll talk about these speakers in another post.

But at the very top of the list of good things coming out of the meeting is Agriculture Minister Lana Popham’s announcement of funding for our association’s Tech Transfer Program.

Lana Popham announced the BCHPA will receive $100,000 this year to help start a Tech Transfer Program.

For as long as I have been on the board of the BCHPA, I and many others have argued that British Columbia needs a TTP to help beekeepers in areas of practical application, education and applied research.  The province’s Apiculture Division is one of the best in the country, and is even the envy of many U.S. states, which often don’t have any such regulatory capacity or support for beekeepers. But a tech transfer program, run by a beekeepers’ association, is a different animal. It offers  services that the government regulatory agency can’t or won’t undertake, such as applied research, non-regulatory testing,  teaching integrated pest management, effective queen-rearing and more.

Ironically, B.C. once did have a TTP-style extension service operated by the province. Kerry Clark, our immediate past president, and John Gates were the two extension specialists. But like many governments that wanted to cut “unnecessary” programs or transfer the costs to the private sector, the BC government of the 1990s did away with the service.

Over the last six years the rest of Canada’s beekeepers followed on the grand-daddy of Canadian TTPs, the Ontario program first envisioned by Medhat Nasr, and started co-funded programs. We have been the last one without such a vital service.

Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture

That now ends with Popham’s announcement on Saturday that the B.C. government is giving the BCHPA $100,000 for the first of what we hope and expect is a long-term annual commitment. The BCHPA and beekeepers have also got some skin in the game, and this isn’t a “handout” but comes with some hefty strings attached. We also face some significant long-term financial challenges. We’re going to have to hire a manager, develop cost-effective but results-producing programs and start up a research apiary. And that is only in the first year.

Over my long career as a journalist I was always careful in how I referred to politicians. My need for objectivity required me to walk a balancing beam that, if I fell or jumped off, could damage my credibility.

But I’m going to take that risk now and point out that I’ve never seen an agriculture minister like Popham. Her passion for her portfolio and her interest in food security, promoting farmers and defending the underpinnings of good agricultural concepts, such as rehabilitation of the Agricultural Land Reserve system, is refreshing and welcome.

There have been good agriculture ministers in the past, and others who were more interested in using the portfolio as a stepping stone in their political careers, to the detriment of the sector. Those that invested in their portfolios focused on important sectors like grain, cattle, tree fruits and bush fruits. Very few recognized the foundational importance of honey bees, without which most of those sectors would be weakened.

Popham puts them all to shame. I mean, who in the world would have created a “Bee BC” program designed to improve bee health outcomes? The littlest insect is recognized by Popham for its powerful role in the agricultural economy.

Full disclosure, our company has been the recipient of some Bee BC grants to improve bee health, including two allowing us to look into novel virus therapies using mycelium, and two that assist Kootenay beekeepers in reducing diseases and pathogens by sterilizing equipment at Sterigenics in Port Coquitlam. Those grants require cost-sharing on our part. And beekeepers in the Sterigenics program have to pay their own sterilization fees, though the cost of transport to the Lower Mainland is underwritten by the grants.

Screen shot of video produced by Investment Agriculture Foundation about Honey Bee Zen Bee BC projects.

To others wishing to serve in elected office, I say look to Popham as an example of what public service really means.

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