The livelihood of Australia’s queen bee breeders is being affected by ongoing varroa mite control measures. (Facebook: AgriFutures Australia)
The latest varroa outbreaks in New South Wales are having a devastating impact on queen bee breeders.
The varroa destructor mite was discovered in the state six months ago and 17,162 hives have since been destroyed in an effort to try to control its spread.
Hunter Valley apiarist Col Wilson has been breeding queens for decades, but an infestation of the destructive varroa mite in an amateur beekeeper’s hive nearby means he has to euthanase his bees and burn or douse his equipment in fuel to kill the mites.
He used to distribute queens across the country, enabling apiarists to replenish their bee colonies and improve their genetics, but killing his bees will destroy his business.
“Now I fall into the red [eradication] zone, that means those bees will go … so that part of the business is completely shut down,” he said.
Col Wilson says having to kill his bees will destroy his business. (Supplied)
National shortage of bees
NSW was the biggest supplier of queen bees in Australia, but Mr Wilson said that has all changed when varroa arrived, with bee movements restricted and hives destroyed.
“Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria relied on NSW, as you need to re-queen your hive every year … but now there’s a shortage, I don’t know how they’re going to get around that.”
Richard Sims from the Australian Queen Bee Breeders Association said the control measures are affecting trade with other states as well.
“Queensland bee breeders have decided not to send bees interstate [because] the South Australian certificate is 10 pages long, its just too hard.”
“It has been incredibly disruptive and the state health certificates are not workable,” Mr Sims said.
There is compensation for beekeepers who have lost equipment but Richard Sims said it was not enough to cover breeders who have to euthanase bees.
Richard Sims is concerned about the future for queen bee breeders as more cases of varroa mites trigger the further destruction of hives.(Supplied: Richard Sims)
“A lot of those were commercial guys who now don’t have an income and a lot were amateurs who don’t have a hobby any more and might have sold honey for cash.”
He said he was particularly concerned for queen bee breeders like Mr Wilson, who would probably have to move to an area where it was still possible to keep bees.
“He’s been doing it for a long time … his house and shed are in the red zone, he can’t keep bees there for three years.”
NSW government support
The Department of Primary Industry (DPI) in NSW issued a statement to say eradication of varroa mite was still the goal and that has the support of industry.
That means all European honey bees in the red zones have to be destroyed, including those in the wild, and it will takes three years before Australia can declare itself free of the mite.
DPI staff have inspected almost 30,000 hives or about 10 per cent of those in the state.
Breeders work for years to develop queens that will improve the genetics of the hive. (Supplied: Col Wilson)
There is an $18 million fund to compensate the industry and a permit system is in place to preserve queen bees that have a high genetic value.
That allows registered commercial queen bee breeders to select genetically important queens they want to safeguard.
The department said that moving these queens posed a very low risk of spreading varroa mite if strict biosecurity measures were undertaken.
For breeders like Mr Wilson, euthanasing bees is like losing your life’s work and now he faces some tough decisions about what to do next.
“At this stage, don’t really know, suppose I’ve got to sit down and have a good think.”
Source: ABC News
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