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News

Almond pollination: a risky business? 31 Aug 2011

Beekeepers from across the country are about to return home following another year’s successful pollination of almond crops – but the question is how much their bees are at risk from pests and disease.

Finding the answer is a priority of the Pollination Program, which is currently calling for researchers to submit funding applications for this and other projects.

Gerald Martin is Chairman of the Program, run as a partnership between the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL).

“The almond pollination is just about complete for this year, and although it’s still a little early to tell what the crop will look like, growers are pleased with the good weather and adequate availability of hives to pollinate their orchards,” Mr Martin said.

“There’s concern however in the industry that this convergence of thousands of hives in south east Australia is a high risk exercise for the spread of bee pests and disease,” he said.

“No other event involves so many beekeepers and their bees in such close proximity to one another and although every effort is made to minimise the threat of infection, no one knows the real risks.

“Good beekeeping practise combined with independent arrival audits of hives coordinated by orchardists are a successful and important part in the management of pests and diseases around almond pollination time - but we acknowledge that risks do exist and that’s what the research needs to look at,” said Mr Martin.

Almonds are 100 per cent dependent on pollination by honeybees and need around six hives per hectare for optimal production.

An estimated 65 per cent of agricultural production in Australia relies on honeybees for pollination, yet there is little awareness of their important role because of the incredible job done by wild European honeybees.

The impact of an exotic pest or disease incursion is considered to be a significant risk to the beekeeping industry and wild European honeybees – and therefore the industries reliant on pollination to produce fruit, vegetables and grain.

Other research priorities for 2012-13 include:

  • Improving traps, bait boxes and remote poisoning for pest bees

  • Risk assessment of ports for surveillance for bee pest and pest bees

  • Novel rearing techniques for reducing the time required to produce hives ready for pollination

Preliminary research proposals close 23 September 2011. For more information see www.rirdc.gov.au/researchers