Honey Bee & Pollination

Program Overview


The Rural Industries R&D Corporation’s Honey Bee and Pollination R&D Program aims 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.

The Honey Bee and Pollination R&D Program is funded by statutory levies paid by industry participants. The levy is matched dollar for dollar by the Australian Government up to 0.5 per cent of the industry's gross value of production.

Research projects are guided by the Honey Bee and Pollination R&D Advisory Committee.

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. These include production of beeswax, queen and packaged bees and propolis.


Honey bees play a central role in effective pollination of a wide range of crops. Production of commodities such as apples and almonds is completely dependent on pollination by honey bees and in a wide range of other crops honey bee pollination significantly increases product yield and quality.

A number of beekeepers are paid for the provision of pollination services to agricultural producers, and it is expected that this activity will continue to increase in size and importance to the industry.

R&D in this program is conducted to raise awareness that will help protect pollination in Australia.

Funding from Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) for the Program is from the apple and pear, almond, avocado, cherry, vegetable and summer fruit levies and voluntary contributions from the dried prune and melon industries with matched funds from the Australian government.

There are currently about 10,000 registered beekeepers in Australia operating approximately 600,000 hives. By location, New South Wales is the largest honey producer (39 per cent), followed by South Australia (19 per cent), Victoria (17 per cent), Queensland (14 per cent), Western Australia (7 per cent) and Tasmania (4 per cent). Most commercial honeybee keepers are regionally based.

Key challenges for the honeybee and pollination-dependent industries include developing:

  • Methods and strategies for management of existing and threatening pests and diseases in the industry. The Small Hive Beetle (Aethnia tumida) is continuing to spread in eastern Australia, causing losses to managed hives and an unknown but potentially significant level of damage to feral bees.

  • Two species of Varroa mites pose a major risk both to the honeybee industry and associated pollination-dependent industries; neither is known to be in Australia at this time. Continued investment in pre-border and border surveillance and protection are an important element of protecting the nation from these pests.

  • Strategic measures to maximise market returns to Australian honey producers and suppliers. At present, honey competes with other natural and artificial sweeteners for dietary use. Outcomes of research work supported by the Honeybee Program have indicated that many Australian honeys possess important attributes such as a low glycaemic index and/or pre-biotic and therapeutic properties. Current research being funded by the Corporation will help the industry use this knowledge to best advantage to derive optimal returns for honey in an increasingly competitive market.

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) has four key objectives:

Objective 1: Reduce the incidence and impact of pests and diseases on honeybees (45% of investment)

Australia is free from some of the most important pests of honeybees, namely Varroa destructor and Tropilaelaps clareae, being the two major pests. The establishment of these pests in bees in Australia would be a catastrophe for the beekeeping industry causing huge losses of production in both bee products and pollination services as well as the virtual elimination of feral colonies.

The beekeeping industry must be well prepared to identify and eradicate any incursion of exotic pests, or in the event that any incursion is not contained, efficient control strategies need to be quickly implemented to minimize the impact of any new pest.

In recent years technological advances in genetics have facilitated the development of powerful tools which can be used to reduce the incidence and impact of pests and diseases on honeybees.

This can take several forms; the development of resistant bees, the identification of resistance to pathogens and the identification of undesirable genes. The more intensive management of bees caused by necessity and the impact of these changes together with emergence of new diseases and pests such as Nosema ceranae and the Small Hive Beetle have contributed to a general increase in the incidence of diseases and pests in honey bees in Australia.

Effective control strategies that minimize losses caused by the pathogens are necessary to increase the productivity of beekeepers in Australia.

Objective 2: Increase the productivity and profitability of beekeepers (20%)

Prices paid for honey have not kept pace with production costs. This has forced beekeepers to change beekeeping practices to strive to maintain their economic viability. Income diversification including new product development is an area which could increase profitability.

Increased productivity could be achieved by improvements in bee genetics, best management practices and industry benchmarking.

Objective 3: Increase understanding of the role of flora in honeybee management (20%)

Honeybees collect nectar and pollen from native flora. Honeybees can also deliver pollination services to horticulture, agriculture and native flora. There is a need to better understand the role of flora in honeybee management and the role of the honey bee in native ecosystems.

The beekeeping industry depends on native floral resource for about 70% of its honey production. Access to native flora continues to be a major issue facing the industry. Continued adequate resources are vital to sustain a profitable and productive honeybee industry.

Objective 4: Promote extension, communication and capacity building (15%)

The Honeybee Advisory Committee has effective linkages with industry, the research community, relevant community groups and government departments. These linkages are important for the efficient management of honeybee research - defining objectives, developing priorities, evaluating results, applying research findings as well as promoting extension, communication and capacity building.

Key contacts and links

RIRDC Senior Research Manager

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

RIRDC Program Coordinator

Margie Heath
Ph: 02 6271 4145
Fax: 02 6271 4199
Email: margaret.heath@rirdc.gov.au

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RIRDC Projects and Results

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Completed projects

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

Completed projects
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