Beekeepers seek double levy to aid food security
Surveillance the key to hold varroa at bay
NORTH East beekeepers are being encouraged to support a 100 per cent increase in the national honey levy to fund surveillance that – it is hoped – will keep varroa mite and other pests from devastating Australia’s honey bee population and putting food security at risk.
Well-known Glenrowan apiarist Linton Briggs said that beekeepers from the lower North East and sub-alpine regions had met in Wangaratta to discuss the proposed increase in the levy from 2.3 cents per kilogram to 4.6c/kg of honey sold.
Mr Briggs said that there had been widespread recognition by producers – including the North East Apiarists’ Association – that Australia’s bee business needed to “be prepared in the best possible way to deal with overseas pests and pathogens”.
Varroa mite – a vampire like tiny vermin that sucks a bee’s haemolymph, or ‘blood’ – causes bee deformity and colony collapse.
Australia is the world’s only inhabited continent where the national honey bee population remains free of the mite.
Mr Briggs said that the incursion of the small hive beetle – identified in Australia late in 2002 but thought to have entered the country at least a year earlier – provided a sharp lesson in pest spread.
The native of honey bee colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, where the beetle is considered a minor problem, escalated in humid eastern Australian conditions.
The beetle is a strong flier but its spread was inadvertently helped by beekeepers themselves moving hives across vast distances – a common practice in commercial beekeeping.
A New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ study found that 80 small hive beetles could multiply to 36,000 within nine weeks in the right conditions.
The beetle eats bee eggs, brood, pollen and honey, contaminates hive honey with faeces and can force a queen to stop laying eggs and an infested hive to abscond.
Mr Briggs said that the levy increase proposal – which will deliver, if approved, $920,000 a year
But it’s so important that we – nationwide – get our act correct and have the best protocols and systems in place to fund pest surveillance.
for a national bee pest surveillance program – would be debated at NSW and Victorian Apiarists’ Association state conferences in the next three months.
Once all state associations have voted on the levy proposal the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council will finalise levy collection arrangements.
Mr Briggs said that levy collection from all honey producers was “a very costly business”.
In the past the firms accumulating bulk honey for packaging deduct the levy from payments to be made to producers and forward this to the national levy fund.
Mr Briggs said arguments had been put that small producers should be exempt from the levy, but the industry view was that small producers together collected a significant supply of honey.
“It’s fair to say that there are a couple of options on the table where those exempted from paying the compulsory levy could be encouraged to pay voluntarily,” Mr Briggs said.
“The difficulty is that some people have very short arms and long pockets, so a debate is going on about how we encourage voluntary contributions.”
Mr Briggs expected that most of the big honey producers would support the levy increase.
‘But it’s so important that we – nationwide – get our act correct and have the best protocols and systems in place to fund pest surveillance,” he said.
The value of crop pollination provided by Australia’s European honey bee population has been estimated at between $4 billion and $6b per year.
Jodie Goldsworthy, director of Beechworth Honey – Australia’s most successful, family-owned, honey-producing enterprise – said late last year that “food security means bee security”.
Ms Goldsworthy said that she and her beekeeper husband, Steven, wanted to know “that on our watch we did what we could to make people as aware as possible of the critical importance of bees to our lives”.
The national bee pest surveillance program includes the use of more than 120 ‘sentinel hives’ at high risk entry-ports throughout Australia.
These form the front line detection points for varroa mite and other bee pests entering the country.