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BRANT TOWNSHIP - "I've got another million dead bees here."

Dave Schuit said the words so matter-of-factly that one might think he was being blasé about the whole situation.

That couldn't be further from the truth. Schuit, owner of Saugeen Country Honey in Elmwood is beside himself. For the second summer in the row, the vast majority of his bees are dead.

Tuesday, Schuit was at an organic farm in Brant Township, approximately six kilometres southwest of Hanover. Potentially more than 2.5 million bees were in the 32 hives Schuit had at this location.

"In one hive, if it's a good hive, and these hives were good this spring, we would have 80,000 -90,000 bees," he said. "Now, half are gone. They're in free fall now; they're still dying."

And it's is not as if the bees are suddenly dropping from the sky. As this farm, the ground near the hives are covered with the carcasses of thousands of bees. They have escaped the hive, either miraculously on their own volition, or by being removed by the few bees who remained healthy.

Their deaths have not been painless; in fact, what they've gone through is akin to torture.

"This bee here died with its tongue sticking out," he explained as he examined three bees from the pile. "This one here, you can see how the wings are turned out because the muscles collapsed. The abdomen has turned inside because of the pain."

Schuit believes the cause behind the colonies collapsing is neonicotinoid pesticides. Representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) were on site Tuesday taking samples from the hives. The government workers were conducting tests to determine the health of the hives, particularly to see if there was any trekamite or voramite present. They also removed samples of the dead bees.

Recently, neonicotinoids have been linked to colony collapse disorder, a blight which has impacted beekeepers since at least 2006.

"I believe our soil is being saturated with the neonicotinoids," Schuit said. "It's in the ground, it's in the water, it's in the plants."

When corn, soy beans or canola are planted, neonicotinoids are on the seed, Schuit continued. When the plant grows, it sucks up water with the chemical.

The hypothesis is that bees are collecting pollen from the corn and bringing that back into the hive. Without pollen, a hive will not survive; however, the infected pollen is proving to be a death sentence.

"The whole plant has become toxic," Schuit said. "Any insect that bites it dies."

The half life of neonicotinoids is 120 days and can stay in the soil and water for years after.

Schuit is one of many who are calling for a halt to the insecticide's use until its impact on bees is more well known.

"(Government agencies) keep saying we gotta keep doing more testing and more testing and more testing," he explained. "We say put the chemical on hold and then do your testing. Why put us out of business?

And it will eventually put him out of business, if left unchecked. He very bluntly admitted a "bee holocaust," a term his wife used at recent open forum in Grey County, would bankrupt him.

However, Schuit is looking at a much larger picture than his own financial stability. He is afraid of what the death of bees means for society as a whole.

"This is the calm before the storm. I think when the bees are blowing the whistle by their death, it's going to bring the nations to their knees," he said. "This is our food supply; bees do over 80 per cent of the world's pollination. And if we think we don't need bees, we better wake up."

That said, Schuit argued more agencies than just OMAFRA should have been at the Brant Township farm Tuesday. He wondered why the Pest Management Regulatory Agency or Ministry of the Environment weren't taking greater steps to solve this problem.

He also wondered if other members of the agricultural industry would have to suffer through such a catastrophe.

"Of all the testing they did last year, 70 per cent of the bees had this chemical on them," he said. "How would a farmer (react to) saying '70 per cent of my cattle are dead, but we're going to do more research and more studies on something we know is on them'?"

In the meantime, Schuit's operation has done its best to limit its bees access to the insecticides, but that is often easier said than done.

"Basically, bees can travel up to nine kilometeres, but we do everything we can to keep our hives from farming where they use these neonicotinoids," he explained. "But it's hard; we don't know what to do. "

Two hours later after our conversation in Brant Township, Schuit called with his second update of the afternoon. There was more trouble found at another collection of his hives, just three kilometres from where OMAFRA was testing.

"Half the yard is gone," he said. His voice cracked as he tried to collect himself.

"This hurts me," he had said earlier in the afternoon. " Seeing my livestock dying in the millions, before my eyes."

With files from QMI Agency


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