The Australian honey bee industry produces between 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes of honey annually. Approximately 4,630 tonnes is exported per year (of the three years to March 2014); 70 per cent of Australian honey is produced from native flora. While honey is the major commercial output of the honey bee industry, there are a number of other products which also add to the income of honey bee businesses, and include paid pollination services, beeswax production, queen bee and packaged bee sales.
In 2014, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) determined the gross value of production (GVP) of the beekeeping industry in 2012-13 was $88 million, with a forecasted GVP of $92 million in 2013-14 (ABARES 2014). The relatively small beekeeping industry GVP understates the industry’s value to agriculture and the economy in general through pollination services and, potentially, the value of honey and honey products in medical uses.
There are approximately 12,400 registered beekeepers in Australia with around 528,000 hives (AHBIC 2014). Some 102,000 hives are used for paid pollination and between 80,000 and 100,000 hives provide pollination services on a mutually beneficial basis (honey production). Over 70 per cent of hives are operated by commercial beekeepers with more than 200 hives, and most commercial apiarists operate between 400 to 800 hives; some have more than 3,000 hives.
Queen bee breeding is specialised and there are growing markets, especially in North America, for Australian queen and package bees, although the USA has a current ban on the importation of live bees from Australia. While this sector of the industry is relatively profitable, the major constraints are freight costs, the constant threat of export bans, and the limited number of skilled queen bee breeders (AHBIC 2014).