Apple growers warned to learn from NZ 23 May 2013

Australia’s apple and pear industries need to be taking more notice of the lessons learnt in New Zealand, where the invasion of the Varroa mite caused significant damage to the beekeeping industry and impacted the production of pollination reliant crops.

Technical Manager for Apple and Pear Australia Limited (APAL) Jesse Reader says while Australian growers increasingly understand the value of paid pollination, they aren’t particularly focused on the threat of Varroa, and the experiences from other countries show this may be a problem.

“In New Zealand for example we know when Varroa spread through the country many bee keepers were taken out by the mite, particularly smaller operators, and a number of hives have been completely destroyed and management practices are driving higher prices.

“So there has been around a 40% increase in the cost of pollination paid by growers, with prices going from about $65 dollars for an orchard pollination unit to $100.

“In our eight separate growing regions for apples and pears, I would say around six currently actively pay for pollination, the exception being the region around Orange in Central Western NSW. I would say you can see the negative impact this is having for them.

“While some apple and pear varieties are not as heavily reliant on pollination as the majority, all fruit will still see enormous benefits from pollination, so I worry about the impact Varroa would have on our current systems.”

The apple and pear industry has really shifted to paying for this pollination following the introduction of netting for bird and hail control over the past five to seven years. 

The nets in effect keep out any wild European honey bees, creating a monoculture. While Jesse Reader says this has alerted industry to how significant the bees are, in terms of preparing for Varroa the industry needs to learn more from the New Zealand experience.

“I expect one possible reaction to costs going up and the availability of hives going down is that growers may try and reduce the number of hives they are using. However we know from New Zealand that this isn’t a long term option for productivity reasons.

“One of the key things growers need to do is develop their relationships with beekeepers. I think at the moment it’s a bit of an “us and them” culture. We need better communication and the establishment of best practice rules so that beekeepers and growers can work with each other confidently. 

“Australian growers are resilient and responsible, but the sooner we establish better pollination practices and understanding, and the stronger our relationships with the pollination industry, the better that adaptation will be.”

The Pollination Program is funding research into surveillance aimed at detecting Varroa as soon as it arrives, as well as making sure there are miticides that will kill Varroa, and other management options available to help beekeepers fight any incursion. More details are available on the RIRDC website at

The Pollination Program strongly encourages all growers to put in a call to a beekeeper today, and get prepared for the future.