Bee stock faces two challenges
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.