Australia — Biosecurity concerns and the loss of apiary sites has made some beekeepers uncertain of their future.
The drought and last year’s bushfires ravaged hundreds of hectares of public land, and many of Victoria’s best honey-producing forests and woodlands will take years to recover, leaving some beekeepers struggling to keep up with industry demand.
While the honey industry itself is worth only $60 million to the Australian economy annually, bee pollination services indirectly contribute billions of dollars to the agricultural and horticultural sectors.
Federal member for Corio Gavan O’Connor, who is part of a House of Representatives agriculture committee inquiry into the bee industry, said there were several problems facing Geelong’s handful of commercial beekeepers.
“The broad gamut of the inquiry relates to its role in agriculture, the usual trade issues, biosecurity issues, the impact of land management, the research and development needs of the industry, its training needs, its future,” Mr O’Connor said.
“I think the local beekeepers have raised important issues relating to land and general resources and security issues, and I will be meeting with them in the coming weeks.”
Mount Duneed apiarist John Edmonds, owner of Edmonds Honey, said he was concerned about several issues, including the problem of how to fill US bee demand after the collapse of the American bee industry.
“They’ve gone from about five million hives because of pests and disease down to about a million colonies, and as a result they’ve got problems,” he said.
“There are a few beekeepers in Albury that have been close enough to truck bees up to Sydney (to travel to the US). The problem for us is that the planes leave from Sydney to Los Angeles, so we need freight planes leaving from here going straight to Los Angeles. It’s a big opportunity for Australia.”
Mr Edmonds said US hives were rife with varroa mites, a highly destructive bee parasite that had yet to reach Australia.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Peter McGuaran last month announced a funding boost of more than $390,000 towards a new alliance to manage industry research into the varroa virus.
“Varroa mite is an external parasite of bees and is the biggest pest facing the honeybee industry and reliant horticultural industries around the world,” Mr McGuaran said.
Mr Edmonds, who lost a third of one his sites to last year’s bushfires, said Parks Victoria had reclaimed 10 of his Anglesea sites without replacing them in kind, as he expected.
“I also lost a truckload of bees in the Brisbane Ranges . . . the sad part of that is that some of that area was burned so badly that it will take 30 years to get a honey crop like in the past,” he said. “I’m never going to see a bee site again there in my lifetime.”