In the wake of new eradication emergency zones set up to combat varroa mite infestations at Bulahdelah, 96 kilometres north of Newcastle (the epicentre of the recent varroa incursion) and Calga, about 99 kilometres south, 600 bee hives have already been eradicated by NSW authorities, with many more to follow.
An online article published in The Guardian on June 30 quoted NSW Minister for Agriculture, Dugald Saunders, as stating that commercial beekeepers would be compensated for equipment, hives and bees destroyed, but there were no plans at this stage to cover lost income.
This is somewhat ironic considering the almond pollination, due to start in August, for which up to 300,000 hives are trucked from all over southeast Australia to the almond orchards along the Murray – the largest annual movement of livestock in the country.
This also represents a major source of income for commercial apiarists. Interestingly, despite the fact that movement of bees and beekeeping equipment is currently prohibited throughout NSW, and that the varroa outbreak could hardly be considered to be under control, the acting CEO of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), Danny Le Feuvre, said that he hoped this lockdown would end towards the end of next week (i.e. before mid-July), thereby
avoiding what has been referred to as ‘almondgeddon’.
Mr Le Fuevre added that, “We’re still working extremely hard towards making sure bees can go to almonds this year.”
This is hardly surprising, as the Australian almond crop is soon expected to top $1 billion in value. Tim Jackson, the CEO of the Almond Board of Australia reiterated that “If we miss blossom, then it’s an economic disaster for almond growers and their communities.”
He said that his organisation was seeking some sort of permit or zoning system in which NSW beekeepers outside areas of varroa infestation would be exempt from the ‘no movement’ order, and upon compliance with appropriate protocols, would be able to transport their bees to the almonds.
However, this is further complicated by the fact that Victoria, South Australia and Queensland have all prevented the movement of bees and beekeeping equipment from NSW across their borders.
The current lockdown in NSW also prevents Queensland apiarists from moving their hives south to the almonds.
Meanwhile, the emergency zone at Calga, 39 kilometres northwest of Newcastle, is
threatening to derail important research and training at the Tocal Agricultural Institute, run by the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Tocal is situated a mere three kilometres outside the Seaham eradication zone. For years, scientists have been studying bee genetics and varroa control at the site.
The National Honey Bee Genetic Improvement Program is dedicated to identifying and selecting advantageous traits from honey bee bloodlines, with the goal of
allowing beekeepers to refine their breeding stock. A $2.8 million ‘queen bee palace’ was opened just last year. ABC Rural quoted local MP Dave Layzell as stating, “The queen bee palace is the heart of our genetic improvement program and research and probably our best line of defence against this mite getting out across the country.”
Steve Targett, the Chairperson of AHBIC, confirmed that protection protocols were also being sought for the bees at Tocal, which offers a variety of short courses for beekeepers, as well as the popular Certificate III in Beekeeping. Courses are currently proceeding without practical elements.