Victorian almond growers are calling for the creation of a beehive biosecurity bubble to be created within Victoria’s Sunraysia region to facilitate the pollination of their crop next month.
The growers are facing the same cross-border access challenges experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic for the past two years about accessing NSW-based beehives for their orchards.
“We are facing the very same predicament, but instead of the health of the beekeepers being in question, this time it is the bees,” Almond Board of Australia CEO Tim Jackson said.
Victorian Government officials last night confirmed the State intends banning all NSW-based beehives into Victoria due to the discovery of varroa mite in northern NSW.
The move has left Victorian growers exposed to a severely reduced number of beehives ahead of the key pollination season, Mr Jackson said. It is estimated Victorian almond orchards will be up to 80,000 hives short of requirements.
“The shutdown means there will not be enough hives available to meet the needs of these growers,” he said.
“In normal years, they source beehives from Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Victoria to pollinate their orchards, but without access to NSW hives there just won’t be enough this year.”
Background – ABA position on varroa mite:
Mr Jackson said the Australian almond industry recognises that the incursion of varroa mite is an extremely serious issue. The industry is committed to supporting the eradication of the mite and fully supports the National Response Plan put in place to eradicate varroa within the existing areas surrounding the Port of Newcastle and Narrabri.
As signatory to the nation’s Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPRD), the almond industry continues to help fund the eradication of pests (like varroa) that affect its industry. The almond industry has this week committed to contribute millions toward the official 100-day varroa eradication plan through the EPRD.
At this time, the NSW Government has been successful in containing and tracking the mite to the existing incursion north-eastern NSW. To date, the incursion has been contained in areas over 700km from the nearest almond orchard. Almond growers recognise the hard work that is being done by all States combat the mite and support the pollination of our crop.
To alleviate the beehive shortage in Victoria, the Almond Board of Australia is proposing the creation of designated biosecurity bubbles for remote orchards along the River Murray. The plan would allow these sites to be exclusively serviced by NSW beehives supplied from well outside the NSW infestation zone and also ensure there is no contact with hives from other States.
“We are exploring all options in the hope of finding a solution that works within the guidelines of the National Response Plan and also brings surety to growers and beekeepers on both sides of the border at this very difficult time,” Mr Jackson said.
“We understand there is reluctance from beekeepers outside NSW to put their hives in the same orchards as NSW hives, so creating a designated orchards exclusively stocked with NSW beehives seems like the most sensible solution.
“Pollination looks like it will come early this year, so we have a week to 10 days to hopefully get something sorted.”
Mr Jackson said the frustration for Victorian growers is that NSW – at this point – is well advanced in establishing an exemption permit system so NSW-based beehives located in areas well beyond the northern NSW incursion zone could be moved to southern NSW in time for almond pollination. Under the proposed plan all other hives in NSW will remain under the existing stand still order.
“We acknowledge that these plans could be shot down in a day – and rightly so – if more varroa detections are found further afield,” he said.
“But based on all the beehive surveillance data that is emerging, the NSW Government appears confident that building a zoned movement process, with a number of safeguards, similar to what it has used in other biosecurity outbreaks like equine influenza in 2007-08, is achievable.
“The efforts so far in managing the risk of an outbreak of varroa and maintaining some type of certainty on farm has been greatly appreciated.
“There are a lot of people, including volunteer beekeepers, working ridiculous hours in and around the detection hot spots in north-east NSW trying to get a handle on just how far afield the varroa might have spread.”
Mr Jackson said latest discussions with Victorian government officials suggest they are open to look at anything that can help Victorian growers and beekeepers.
“We will certainly be working with Victorian biosecurity officials around this bubble proposal,” he said.
“Right now, there is certainly frustration that despite our industry’s hefty commitment to eradicate varroa, we are facing industry losses of at least $400 million if we can’t develop these bee bubbles right on the Victoria border.
“We believe they represent a viable win-win solution that enables the Victorian Government to maintain their stated risk level while allowing our almond growers to get on with pollination in the coming days.”
Mr Jackson said that at this point there have been no detections of the mite beyond north-eastern region of NSW.
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Almond Board of Australia Chief Executive Officer Tim Jackson
Ph: 0438 871 312 | E: email@example.com