Bee­keep­ers seek dou­ble levy to aid food se­cu­rity

Sur­veil­lance the key to hold var­roa at bay

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - Front Page - BY JAMIE KRON­BORG jkro­n­borg@ne­

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.

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