KPU creates buzz with new beekeeping program

CLOVERDALE — With honeybee populations on the decline, a new program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University will aim to take the sting out of those impacts on local agriculture.

Starting in 2016, KPU will be offering a beekeeping program that will arm graduates with the know-how on what bees mean to the agricultural community, how to establish and grow hive networks and more.

John Gibeau, president of Cloverdale’s Honeybee Centre, partnered with KPU to create the program.

He said while there are a few programs in North America that offer beekeeping training for large commercial operations, this is the first that caters to smaller, family-sized operations.

"This is more for small businesses, designed to teach beekeeping for a family," he said. "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."

Gibeau said with agriculture, particularly blueberry fields, being such a large industry locally, pollination by bees is becoming increasingly essential to the local economy. He added a family can bring in $100,000 a year with beekeeping.

Jim Pelton, executive director of Continuing and Professional Studies at KPU, noted there was a shortage in bees that was in direct conflict with the province’s agricultural needs, as bees are essential in pollinating a variety of crops.

"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.

According to numbers provided by KPU, the ideal ratio of hives per acre of crops is three-to-one. However, in B.C. there are 20,000 acres of blueberry farms alone, which would require 60,000 bee colonies in and of itself. With only 45,000 commercial bee colonies in the province, farms are left having to import colonies from Alberta.

B.C. Agricultural Minister Norm Letnick estimated honeybee-dependent crops contribute around $275 million to the provincial economy each year.

"Congratulations to KPU on offering this important program and training B.C.’s next generation of beekeepers," he said in a release.

The program will begin in January 2016 and will have the space for 16 graduates initially, but that number is forecast to grow to 24 spots after three years. KPU estimates the first batch of graduates could boost the province’s economy by up to $250,000 per year.

Would-be students will gain knowledge and first-hand experience on beehive care, bee disease management, bee botany, integrated pest management as well as packaging, marketing and bee business planning.

There will also be a five-month paid practicum as part of the program, which Gibeau said is similar to that of a trades apprenticeship.

The KPU beekeeping program will be housed at the school’s Cloverdale campus and will run from January to November.

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