Aussie bees avoid hive collapse but face fire, floods and drought

Aussie bees avoid hive collapse but face fire, floods and drought

THE humble honey bee is the hidden hero of agriculture, estimated to contribute $14.2 billion to the Australian economy.

Thursday marks World Bee Day, which pays tribute and raises awareness about the hard working insects, with roughly one-in-three mouthfuls of food relying on bee pollination.

Australia has been lucky to avoid the colony collapse affecting bee populations across the world, but Aussie bees have faced their own issues following years of drought, floods and fires.

Australian Honey Bee Industry Council chair Trevor Weatherhead said bees helped to produce a diverse range of food, with 35 agricultural and horticultural industries relying on the services provided by commercial beekeepers.

It takes 140 bees to produce one kilogram of macadamias, 69 bees to make a kilo of almonds and 18 bees to pollinate a kilo of avocados.

"There is an aim to have $100 billion worth of farm gate output produced in Australia by 2030 and our bees will have an important role to play in achieving that target," Mr Weatherhead said.

"We're asking everyone to help protect the welfare of our bee population and that home gardeners and farmers take great care with pesticides which could inadvertently harm bees."

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Australia has avoided the dreaded bee colony collapse, usually caused by the varroa mite, through its isolation from other countries and strong biosecurity system.

However, the Black Summer Bushfires took a heavy toll on honey bees, destroying an estimated 15.6 million hectares of native forest, meaning critical nectar and pollen sources for honey bee colonies were lost.

CSIRO bee researcher John Roberts said there were large areas of bushland that were no longer available to beekeepers, making it more difficult to "chase the flowers" in between agricultural pollution periods.

"There were some large areas that were regularly used by commercial beekeepers that suffered extensive burning," Dr Roberts said.

"It's going to take several years before they're available again and producing a good amount of flowering."

Prolonged drought and increasingly erratic weather patterns were also making things much more challenging and unpredictable for beekeepers.

There are around 700,000 commercial hives across the country, but demand for pullulation services is continuing to grow.

"We need to make sure the number of managed hives is keeping up with the demand," Dr Roberts said.

"There is a particularly big uptick in demand in August with the almonds, which have one of the biggest pullulation requirements.

"Blueberries are another crop in high demand around the same time and are often competing for bees."

Dr Roberts said one thing everyone could do, be it farmer or gardener, is have "bee-friendly landscapes".

"That includes breaking up monocultures with different plantings and diverse landscapes, and being mindful around pesticide use," he said.