The latest varroa outbreaks in New South Wales are having a devastating impact on queen bee keepers.
- More than 17,000 bee hives have been destroyed in New South Wales to control the spread of the varroa mite
- A Hunter Valley queen bee farmer has had to euthanize his bees
- Bee movement in Australia has been severely restricted as a result of the varroa mite
The varroa destructor mite was discovered in the state six months ago and since then 17,162 hives have been destroyed in an effort to try to control its spread.
Hunter Valley beekeeper Col Wilson has been raising queens for decades, but an infestation of the destructive varroa mite in a hobbyist beekeeper’s nearby hive means he has to cull his bees and burn or spray his equipment with fuel to kill the queens. Mites.
He used to distribute queens across the country, allowing beekeepers to replenish their bee colonies and improve their genetics, but killing his bees would destroy his business.
“Now I fall into the red [eradication] zone, that means those bees are going to leave… so that part of the business is completely closed,” he said.
National bee shortage.
NSW was the largest supplier of queen bees to Australia, but Wilson said that all changed when varroa hit, with bee movements restricted and hives destroyed.
“Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria relied on NSW as you need to re-reign your hive every year…but now there’s a shortage, I don’t know how they’re going to fix that.”
Richard Sims of the Australian Queen Bee Keepers Association said the control measures are also affecting trade with other states.
“Queensland bee keepers have decided not to ship bees interstate [because] the South Australian certificate is 10 pages long, it’s too difficult.”
“It’s been incredibly disruptive and state health certificates don’t work,” Sims said.
There is compensation for beekeepers who have lost equipment, but Richard Sims said it was not enough to cover breeders who have to cull bees.
“Many of them were business types who now have no income and many were hobbyists who no longer have a hobby and could have sold honey for cash.”
He said he was particularly concerned about queen bee keepers like Wilson, who would probably have to move to an area where it was still possible to keep bees.
“He’s been doing it for a long time…his house and shed are in the red zone, he can’t have bees there for three years.”
Support from the New South Wales government
The Department for Primary Industry (DPI) in NSW issued a statement to say that eradication of the varroa mite remained the goal and was supported by the industry.
That means all European honey bees in the red zones must be destroyed, including wild ones, and it will be three years before Australia can declare itself free of the mite.
DPI staff have inspected nearly 30,000 hives, or about 10 percent of those in the state.
There is an $18 million fund to compensate the industry and there is a permit system in place to preserve queen bees that have high genetic value.
That allows registered commercial queen breeders to select genetically important queens that they want to safeguard.
The department said that moving these queens posed a very low risk of spreading the varroa mite if strict biosecurity measures were taken.
For breeders like Mr. Wilson, euthanizing bees is like losing your life’s work and now you’re faced with tough decisions about what to do next.
“At this stage, I really don’t know, I guess I have to sit down and think hard.”