It has been a bleak year for many European beekeepers, with one of the worst honey harvests in recent times, due to unpredictable weather. The worst hit countries seem to be Italy and France. In Italy, the 2019 harvest was almost halved according to the main agricultural union, Coldiretti. Weather had a lot to do with the disastrous 2019 harvests.
For seven years, Italy has had consecutively poorer honey harvests. Winters are shorter and milder. In 2018 approximately 23,300 tons of honey was collected in Italy, which experienced over 1000 extreme weather events like hail, storms and heat waves. This is a violent weather increase of over 50% compared to 2018.
Bees have been struggling just to survive and have not produced enough honey to stay alive in many parts of Italy. Beekeepers had to feed their bee colonies with fructose-based syrups this year to keep their bees alive. Beloved honey flowers like acacia blossoms were scarce, due to sudden cold weather. Chestnut trees flowered for only a few days rather than the usual 2-3 weeks due to early heat. Many factors are in play—cheap foreign honey, climate change and increased pesticide use—these are not only affecting the health and welfare of bees and plants but of entire ecosystems.
This 1:17 minute video speaks to the cheap adulterated Chinese honey problem:
France only collected less than 9,000 tons, which is about one-quarter of the honey that was harvested in the 1990s, according to the National Union of French Beekeeping (UNAF). This makes it the worst on record. A heatwave at the end of June caused the wax to melt in hives, trapping the bees.
Spain’s harvest has dropped since 2015 even though it has more hives than the other countries, according to the Spanish ministry of agriculture.
Romania topped the charts in European honey in 2018 with a 30,000 tons harvest. But 2019 saw a decrease to less than 25,000 tons. There was a lack of rain in autumn and winter which affected the rapeseed crops, and this affected the bees.
Beekeepers from France, Italy and Romania agree that heavy rain, frost and drought all led to fewer nectar-producing flowers. They had to feed their bees to keep them alive.
This has an economic effect on these countries. Italy may have a 73 million euros drop in honey-related income this year.
There is concern that there may be fewer new bee colonies and bees next spring, since the bees killed off all the drones to cut down on the number of mouths to be fed so they could save their colonies. Fewer drones can mean fewer fertilized queens, and therefore fewer colonies.
The French Cyclops Report indicates the varroa parasitic mite, agricultural pesticides and the spread of the Asian hornet in Europe are having a huge impact on bee mortality in recent years.
Beekeepers are concerned about huge Chinese honey imports, which are said to be cut with syrup. The European Union has no legislation in place to require disclosure of the origin of honey. A “blend” can be 99% Chinese honey and 1% Italian honey.
Spain plans to impose new label requirements showing percentages of different honeys in the blend, following beekeeper protests about cheap Chinese honey. France plans to decree that starting on January 1, 2020 all countries contributing more than 20% of the honey must be listed on the label.
Norway and Sweden are starting to show more interest in beekeeping due to a sizzling hot summer in 2018, with 4000 members in the Norwegian Association of Beekeepers. Denmark had trouble selling its honey in 2018, with about 800 tons left over, due to a flood of cheap imported honey.
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