The Australian almond industry is working closely with NSW authorities to contain an incursion of the bee pest Varroa destructor in Newcastle in time for the industry’s peak pollination period.
The mite was first discovered in two sentinel hives at the Port of Newcastle last Wednesday and subsequently found in three other private hives in the vicinity. Australia is one of the few countries in the world that remain free of varroa – a pest that attacks European Honey Bees and has the potential to devastate bee populations and impact pollination activities. Australia’s almond industry relies on bees for critical pollination, with up to 300,000 hives expected to be needed in orchards this season across growing regions during the 4-5 weeks of flowering beginning in August.
Almond Board of Australia Chief Executive Officer Tim Jackson said the NSW incursion posed a serious risk to the industry if it was not contained quickly.
“The timing of this varroa incursion could not be worse for the almond industry and the beekeepers we work closely with,” Mr Jackson said. “Pollination is a critical time and if growers in NSW can’t access commercial hives within the key flowering windows, this has the potential to significantly reduce yields for the 2023 season.”
In response to the outbreak, the NSW Department of Primary Industries has imposed strict measures on NSW beekeepers. This includes the destruction of within a 10km zone around the outbreak area, and a stand still order preventing the movement of any hives in NSW.
“NSW represents 34% of our industry. If the stand still order stays in place and these growers are unable to move hives into their orchards before pollination season, the results will be economically devastating for those growers and their communities,” Mr Jackson said.
The 2023 Australian almond crop is likely to be worth almost $1 billion, but it is reliant on bee pollination in August. Almond pollination is worth $50 million a year to beekeepers. “The annual almond pollination season is one of the biggest logistical exercises in the Australian horticulture with most of the commercial hives in southern Queensland, NSW, SA and Victoria being utilised,” Mr Jackson said.
“It’s an essential process that drives hundreds of millions of dollars in economic returns for the almond and apiary industries combined – and our shared success is dependent on hives making it into orchards at the right time.” The Almond Board of Australia is working closely with authorities and beekeepers to develop strategies to assist growers and beekeepers as the response to the outbreak unfolds.
“We’re doing everything we can to assist authorities to help provide certainty to growers and beekeepers as pollination looms large on the horizon,” Mr Jackson said. “Australia has been incredibly fortunate so far to remain free of varroa – and we want to keep it that way. This incursion really underlines the importance of continuing to fund the appropriate level of biosecurity surveillance as the potential costs to both the almond and apiary industries of this pest becoming entrenched in Australia are just too high.”
• For all updates on the NSW DPI varroa mite emergency response visit: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/biosecurity/seasonal-pests-and-diseases/spring/varroamite
• August is the pollination season for the 2023 almond crop. Almost 300,000 commercial beehives will be required by the industry over a 4-5 week period.
• Stand still orders on hives may result in insufficient hives within orchards during the peak pollination window. This, in turn, could significantly reduce yield potential for the 2023 almond crop.
• The almond industry is predominantly situated across the southern Murray Darling Basin. There are 18 million trees planted across almost 60,000 hectares across NSW, Victoria and SA. NSW represents 34% of the industry’s plantings.
• Almond pollination is currently worth almost $50 million to beekeepers. It is an integral part of their annual income.
• Varroa destructor is not established in Australia. Australia is one of the few counties in the world to remain free of varroa mite.
• The world’s two other major almond producing areas – California and Spain – have had to learn to live with varroa mite for some time.
• Varroa destructor attacks European Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) (EHB) and is considered the greatest threat to Australia’s honey and honey bee pollination plant industries.
• It’s estimated productivity losses would total $70 million a year if varroa destructor becomes established in Australia.