Bee stock faces two chal­lenges

South Canterbury Herald - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - JOANNE HOLDEN

South Can­ter­bury bee­keep­ers have faced a chal­leng­ing sum­mer with drought and the var­roa mite im­pact­ing hives.

The Min­istry for Pri­mary In­dus­tries (MPI) has re­leased its Bee Colony Loss Sur­vey re­port for 2017, which sam­pled 30 per cent of New Zealand bee­keep­ers to de­ter­mine the rate of hive loss and the main rea­sons for it.

MPI aquatic and en­vi­ron­ment health man­ager Dr Michael Tay­lor said a se­vere drought for the mid­dle of the South Is­land last year was the lead­ing con­trib­u­tor to a jump in colony losses.

The drought’s main im­pact was caus­ing nec­tar and pollen sources to de­plete, lead­ing to bees dy­ing from star­va­tion, Tay­lor said.

For the mid­dle of the South Is­land, en­com­pass­ing Can­ter­bury and the West Coast, the loss was 11.4 per cent com­pared to 7.2 per cent in 2016.

De­spite the drought, Pleas­ant Point Api­aries bee­keeper Paul Bartrum said the var­roa mite - a par­a­site that at­taches to bees and sucks fat from them - had been the main killer of his South Can­ter­bury hives be­cause the mites were gain­ing a re­sis­tance to treat­ments.

‘‘It’s cer­tainly the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing bee­keep­ing,’’ he said.

The best so­lu­tion was to breed a bees stock im­mune to the mites, an aim Bartrum is work­ing to­wards by lend­ing fund­ing to breed­ing pro­gramme Betta Bees.

Bartrum said the drought largely missed South Can­ter­bury, but a par­tic­u­larly dry De­cem­ber meant less honey was pro­duced from his crop.

Tay­lor said other ma­jor fac­tors in hive loss were at­tacks from wasps and the death, dis­ap­pear­ance, or in­abil­ity to lay eggs of the queen bee.

‘‘Queen prob­lems seem to be the high­est cause of losses,’’ he said.

‘‘There must be some­thing that’s right up there and some­thing we can learn from,’’ Tay­lor said.

The loss rate for New Zealand was 9.8 per cent, which Tay­lor said was low com­pared to in­ter­na­tional re­sults of ‘‘well over 10 per cent’’.

Tay­lor said 305 cen­tral South Is­land bee­keep­ers, with ap­prox­i­mately 18,500 bee colonies, par­tic­i­pated in the study.

‘‘How­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to give an ex­act num­ber as not all of the colonies are regis­tered,’’ he said.

The min­istry did not have statis­tics for South Can­ter­bury specif­i­cally.

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