Bee prepared: talk to a beekeeper 02 Jun 2011

Arrival of the Varroa mite in Australia could throw horticulture into chaos – at least for the short term. But there is a way for growers to minimise the impact, and that’s by having an existing relationship with beekeepers.

Gerald Martin, Chairman of the Pollination Program’s research advisory committee, says preparation is going to be the key to managing any incursion of this deadly bee pest.

“Every continent in the world except Australia has Varroa, and we need to learn from their experiences,” Mr Martin said.

“This blood-sucking mite is expected to devastate the wild populations of European honeybees which currently provide a magnificent free service, pollinating more than 35 different agricultural and horticultural crops.

“We don’t have enough managed hives in Australia to take up the slack, so the price of pollination services will rise and growers who miss out will be left with lower production and quality produce. It’s only logical to assume that beekeepers will put their existing customers first, so my suggestion to growers is ‘get to know a beekeeper’,” Mr Martin said.

The Pollination Program is a jointly funded partnership with the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) and the Australian Government.

Mr Martin says that through the program, industries that recognise the importance of pollination are making sure they’re prepared for the arrival of Varroa – something experts say is inevitable.

“We’re funding research into surveillance to help keep Varroa out of Australia, as well as ensuring beekeepers have management options available if it does become established.

“Individual growers can do their part too. Find out who your local beekeepers are, maybe conduct a trial by putting a few hives in the corner of your orchard or paddock, or just have a discussion about how the system works.

“The benefits of pollination aren’t always obvious because of the excellent job done by wild honeybees, so growers need to explore how much of a difference paid pollination might make for them.

“We know it can improve the yield and quality of fruit. For industries such as apples, cherries and apricots it can also help to ensure the fruit is an even size and ripens more evenly, minimising management costs,” Mr Martin said.

The Pollination Program has released research which details the importance of pollination for 35 different crops and outlines their pollination needs in the absence of wild honeybees. The Pollination Aware report can be found on the RIRDC website at