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News

What is Plan Bee? 14 Aug 2013

The annual movement of tens of thousands of beehives around the country has become the subject of a major research project to help Australia’s horticulture industries plan for the possible arrival of the devastating Varroa mite.

The Australian almond industry is investigating the impact of a potential Varroa incursion on hive movements, and the effect that any movement restrictions would have on the ability of our horticulture industries to continue paid pollination.

The project is being managed by Plant Health Australia and funded by the Pollination Program, a partnership between the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF).

Chairman of the Pollination R&D Advisory Committee, Gerald Martin, says two thirds of our food industries are dependent on honeybee pollination, so a Varroa incursion could have a significant impact.

“Australia is lucky to have a massive population of wild European honeybees, but Varroa is likely to wipe out many of these and end the free pollination services they provide. That will make paid pollination even more critical for sustaining many of our crops and industries.”

From mid-July, beekeepers that provide pollination services transport thousands of hives across Australia, with some travelling as far as 1800 kilometres. Timing is critical to ensure that hives are in place before flowering begins so that the pollination services are available at the optimum time.

“The almond industry, in particular, is one of the most experienced when it comes to recognising the value of paying for pollination services. As the almond industry is 100 per cent dependent on bee pollination to produce almonds, every year beekeepers will organise for more than three billion bees to be moved to the orchards,” Mr Martin said.

“Many other industries are dependent on pollination as well, including the apple, pear, avocado, vegetable, cherry, prune, melon, summer-fruit and onion industries, so in the pollination season hives are constantly on the move.”

If Varroa does enter Australia, quarantine requirements by state and territory governments may result in hive movement restrictions in order to try and stop the pest spreading.

The research project runs from now through to mid-2015 and will proactively investigate the effect of an incursion on paid pollination, and importantly what strategies can be implemented to ensure industries dependent on pollination are not severely impacted. It will review what movement restrictions might eventuate and provide contingency planning for alternative pollination services that might be used to help manage a reduction in hive availability.  

This project is another good example of government and industry working together to fund risk management R&D strategies and protect Australia’s pollination dependent horticultural industries. 

For more information about the Pollination Program head to www.rirdc.gov.au/pollination.