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Honey Bee & Pollination

Program Overview

Overview

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).

The beekeeping industry faces a number of risks, including the entry and spread of exotic pests and diseases (for example, the Varroa mite), economic pressures on the honey producing industry and reduced access by beekeepers to areas of native flora (Pollination Australia Business Plan, 2008). 

The impact of an exotic pest or disease incursion is considered to be the most significant risk. Such an event would substantially increase beekeepers’ costs, reduce their productivity and limit the current extensive movement of hives around Australia. Moreover, it would severely impact on, if not destroy, the existing feral honey bee population, leading to the loss of much of the incidental honey bee pollination that many horticultural industries rely upon (Pollination Australia Business Plan, 2008).

Statutory levies paid by industry participants, matched dollar for dollar by the Australian Government (up to 0.5 per cent of the industry’s GVP) are provided to the Honey Bee and Pollination RD&E Program to improve the productivity and profitability of the Australian bee keeping industry through the organisation, funding and management of a research, development and extension program that is both stakeholder and market-focussed. Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) also supports Program research.


Program Aim & Deliverables

Program aim

Support RD&E that will secure a productive, sustainable and more profitable Australian beekeeping industry and secure the pollination of Australia’s horticultural and agricultural crops.


Deliverables in 2014-15

  • Improve the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program to increase the likelihood of intercepting an incursion of Asian honey bees that could harm the Australian beekeeping industry and industries reliant on honeybees.
  • Complete a national survey of pathogens in Australian honeybees to assist the re-opening of export markets for live bees; development of a code of practice that will specify best practice disease and pest management; and release a website known as ‘BeeAware’.


Annual Target or Output

  • Continue with a modified National Bee Pest Surveillance Program to assist in reducing the likelihood of exotic bee pests and pest bees becoming established in Australia.
  • Results of national survey of pathogens in Australian honeybee will be made available for use in market access negotiations.


  • A code of practice for the honeybee industry will be released which specifies best practice disease and pest management.
  • The ‘BeeAware’ website available as an authoritative source of material about Varroa mite, for use by beekeepers and pollinator-reliant industries.

R&D Plan

The Honeybee and Pollination Program Five Year RD&E Plan 2014/15 - 2018/19 (Draft) outlines the investments that will encompass the Honey Bee and Pollination RD&E Program from 1 July 2014. 

Research will be funded by the combined investments of Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) and the Rural Industries R&D Corporation.

Key contacts and links

RIRDC Senior Program Manager

Dr Dave Alden
Ph: 02 6271 4128
Fax: 02 6271 4199
Email: dave.alden@rirdc.gov.au

RIRDC Program Coordinator

Helen Moffett
Ph: 02 6271 4136
Fax: 02 6271 4199
Email: helen.moffett@rirdc.gov.au

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All honeybee research projects completed by RIRDC appear here. Click on a project name for more information about that project.

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