Enhancing Australia’s bee pest surveillance to aid food security

Enhancements to the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program have delivered a range of valuable outcomes to support the health of Australia’s bees.

Head of biosecurity, at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Lyn O’Connell, said the enhancements will help prevent incursions of exotic bee pests and pest bees.

“Bee pollination supports our crop industries and food security, so we need to have strong biosecurity measures in place to protect the health of our bees,” O’Connell said.

“These enhancements will improve our surveillance, diagnostics, preparedness and response arrangements for key bee pests and viruses.

Forty upgraded catchboxes are being deployed in remote and restricted high-risk areas for pest bees, to allow workers to capture and inspect bee swarms and expand surveillance capacity.

“We are also investigating better options for Asian honey bee specific catchboxes, to improve our targeted surveillance for this significant pest bee,” O’Connell said.

Targeted floral sweep netting will be implemented at high-risk ports for Asian honey bees and other pest bees. It is seen as a tool to catch exotic bees and detect potential incursions.

Extensive surveillance has been undertaken for bee viruses of significance for Australia, including Acute Bee Paralysis Virus, Deformed Wing Virus, Slow Paralysis Virus.

“No exotic viruses were found, demonstrating the health of Australia’s bees. Ongoing surveillance will be undertaken to support evidence-based proof of absence for these viruses,” O’Connell said.

“We are building national diagnostic skills across laboratories to support our preparedness and response activities for these key bee viruses.

“Our response to potential incursions will also be boosted through a new electronic portal that will allow surveillance data to be captured and shared in real-time.

Biosecurity plays a vital role in supporting the health of Australia’s bees and these enhancements will help ensure the measures the country has in place protect bees now and into the future.

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program is jointly funded by the department, Australian Honeybee Industry Council, Hort Innovation and Grain Producers Australia.

Hive aid funds distributed to support beekeepers

Dozens of beekeepers have received support from Rural Aid through their Hive Aid campaign in recent weeks, enabling them to maintain adequate food, water and fuel supplies to care for their bees.

Figures supplied by Rural Aid show that donations to the campaign have climbed to over $240,000. Launched just two months ago, the campaign has seen over 100 beekeepers register for support for their bees and their families. Some of the aid provided so far includes $50,000 worth of gift cards for groceries, $61,500 worth of assistance for bills and $118,500 worth of Beekeeper Cards that can be used on fuel and supplies.

Hive + Wellness CEO Ryan d’Almeida said: “Hive Aid is a collaborative campaign that was created after we saw how much our suppliers were struggling given the heat, scarcity of food and water for bees, and devastating bushfires. We knew that this was a problem right across the beekeeping industry, and that there was urgent need for support.

“The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council has done a fantastic job in advocating on behalf of beekeepers and spreading the word about the support available through Hive Aid. We are also very grateful for the expertise of Rural Aid, which has run so many other successful campaigns supporting rural causes, and which enabled Hive Aid to be established so quickly.”

“Our farmers – and that includes our beekeepers – have faced unprecedented bushfires and drought. Professional beekeepers are the cornerstone of our agricultural industry and when they and their honey bees are in trouble, the impact on farming is widespread,” said rural aid national business development manager Wayne Thomson. “We are very pleased that the campaign has been so well received. Applications continue to come in from beekeepers, proving this is a service that can make a real difference.”

Hardship fund launched for Aussie beekeepers

Hive + Wellness, which sources honey from over half the country’s professional beekeepers for use in its Capilano brand, has joined with Rural Aid and peak industry body The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), to launch Hive Aid, a drought and bushfire relief campaign aimed specifically at struggling beekeepers.

The company has warned Australia’s $58 billion agricultural industry is at risk as it looks to garner urgent support for the nation’s “littlest livestock with the biggest impact”, calling on consumers and government to back Australian beekeepers and honey bees.

Hive + Wellness COO Ben McKee said: “Bees and beekeepers have a crucial role to play in our food production, and right now they are in a battle for survival. Hive Aid will provide much-needed assistance during some of the worst conditions in memory.”

The 2019/2020 honey season is forecast to be the lowest on record, with drought and bushfire decimating available water and flowering trees, and severe heat further impacting survival and activity of bee populations.

“We are already seeing falling bee populations and the increasing risk of an exodus from the industry by beekeepers who can no longer maintain viable operations. If we don’t take immediate action, we risk not just a fall in honey production, but declines in food production across the board,” McKee said.

“The honey shortage is what consumers will see first, but the ramifications of the current conditions are much greater. Bees are directly responsible for pollinating one third of everything we eat – they have an impact on crops as varied as apples, avocados and broccoli, as well as feed used for livestock.”

Hive Aid will be overseen by AHBIC, and will provide financial and practical support to professional beekeepers. The campaign sits alongside other programs run by Rural Aid. 100% of funds raised through the Hive Aid campaign will go directly to beekeepers.

“Australia’s professional beekeepers are the cornerstone of Australian agriculture. We need to assist those currently impacted so that they don’t leave the industry, as well as provide help for difficult conditions ahead,” McKee said.

“It is easy to overlook our littlest livestock and the forgotten farmers who care for them, but there should be no doubt about their importance. The contribution of honey bees to agriculture in Australia through pollination services is estimated at up to $20 billion.”

Wayne Thomson, Rural Aid National Business Development Manager, said the campaign would provide immediate practical assistance, such as supporting beekeepers with the cost of water to sustain bees or the cost of fuel to transport hives to areas with more nutritional resources for their bees. “Individual beekeepers may have different needs – our support will enable funds to be directed where they are most needed,” Thomson said.
AHBIC Chairman, Peter McDonald said: “The industry’s challenges are very real, and our members are telling us that they need urgent help.

“Hive Aid is an AHBIC endorsed campaign aiming to deliver targeted assistance to beekeepers that will complement Government funded assistance such as fodder and freight subsidies and waiving of National Park permit and truck registration fees in NSW,” he said.

Drought impacting on beekeepers

Hive + Wellness has warned that Australia faces a potential honey shortage, as the nation’s beekeepers grapple with some of the most difficult conditions in the industry’s history.

Honey production in the current season is forecast to be the lowest on record, with further declines predicted for 2020/21 if we see no improvement in Australian weather conditions.
A survey conducted by the company amongst its suppliers found that 98% of respondents had been adversely impacted by the ongoing drought, with some beekeepers seeing their production drop to zero. Bushfire and heat had exacerbated already difficult conditions, devastating bee populations as well as their source of food.

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Ben McKee from Hive + Wellness said: “Australian beekeepers are the forgotten farmers in this drought. Just as livestock farmers have faced challenges in feeding their animals, a lack of flowering trees means beekeepers have struggled to ensure sufficient food for their bees.”

“They are experiencing significant declines in both the population of their hives and in production levels as there is simply not enough nectar for bees to collect. The bees are also affected by water scarcity and the relentless heat.”

The outlook for the 2019/2020 honey season is grim, with expectations of the lowest national crop on record, which has been aggravated by poor honey production in previous seasons.

Bert Seagrave, an Emmaville based beekeeper from the New England region of NSW, and supplier to Hive + Wellness, said: “We are facing the worst honey production in my lifetime, and we are working tirelessly just to keep our bees alive”.

Hive + Wellness is the largest honey packer, marketer and supporter of beekeepers in Australia. Its beekeepers account for a significant proportion of the nation’s honey production.

Commercially reared bees deliver active ingredient to protect crops

Bee Vectoring Technologies International has announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved Clonostachys rosea CR-7 (CR-7) for use as a fungicide on commercial crops.  CR-7 is the first registered active ingredient for the Canadian-based company and the first active ingredient approved by the EPA for application via bees, known as “bee vectoring,” in which BVT is a specialist operator.

Sold under the brand name Vectorite with CR-7, the product is labeled for numerous high-value crops, including strawberries, blueberries, sunflowers and almonds. With this approval, BVT is positioned to officially launch and begin to generate revenue with Vectorite with CR-7, starting with this year’s autumn and winter blueberry and strawberry season in the US. The registration permits BVT to make positive crop protection claims when selling Vectorite with CR-7.

“Not only is this a critical milestone for BVT in terms of the commencement of scalable commercialisation and revenue, but it represents a groundbreaking shift in how plant care products can be applied,” said Ashish Malik, CEO of BVT. “By using commercially reared bees to deliver biological products, growers can protect crops, increase crop yields and enhance their sustainable growing practices by reducing the use of chemicals and other costly and increasingly scarce resources including water, fuel and labor.”

BVT is pursuing regulatory approval from other key countries and, because the EPA serves as an affirmative model for regulatory agencies outside the US, these review processes should move faster and more easily.

“According to industry statistics, to establish the high levels of safety and efficacy required to bring a new crop protection product to market costs, on average, more than $410 million and 11 years of internal research and development, university crop trials, and grower demos. This registration is a valuable and substantial asset for BVT, and brings considerable credibility within the industry.” said Michael Collinson, Chairman of the Board of Directors for BVT. “The BVT team has succeeded in developing a novel and effective alternative solution to traditional chemical pesticides and has done so at a fraction of the average industry cost. We are incredibly pleased to have accomplished this feat and are both proud and excited to put the BVT solution into the hands of farmers in the U.S. and are looking forward to future approvals in major agricultural regions around the world.”

The EPA’s registration makes VECTORITE with CR-7, Registration Number 90641-2, available immediately for sale as a registered fungicide for use on the labelled crops

Australian Made supports bee industry

The Australian Made Campaign is reminding consumers to support local beekeepers and manufacturers by buying authentically Australian bee products this World Bee Day.

“When you buy Australian Made bee products you are supporting thousands of Australians at all stages of the supply chain, from the local beekeepers to the bee product manufacturers and retailers.

It’s been a tough year for Aussie farmers and manufacturers, particularly those in regional areas affected by fire, drought and floods, so it is important to show our support. Buying Australian-made is one of the best ways to ensure the bee industry thrives in Australia. There are more bee products than just honey, Australian produces a range of beeswax candles, food wraps, skincare and health supplements,” said Australian Made Campaign chief executive, Ben Lazzaro.

In 2017, the United Nations declared 20 May as World Bee Day to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development.

According to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, there are approximately 13,000 registered beekeepers in Australian, producing between 20-25,000 tonnes of honey each year and contributing an estimated $100 million per annum to the local economy.

“It is important to educate people and raise awareness for bees and the significant role they play in the health of our ecosystem. It has been fantastic to see awareness of the plight of bees increase in the last few years, however more can be done to support bees and the beekeeping industry,” said owner and founder of Apiary Made, Celeste Faltyn.

“As individuals, there are a number of things that we can do to assist the survival of our bee populations…One thing that we all can do is to show support for local Australian beekeepers, buying local has tremendous positive impact on the Australian industry. Beekeeping can be a hard game sometimes, just like all forms of farming, by supporting local manufacturers you are helping the beekeepers and producers in our community to continue defend our local bee populations.

There are also lots of little things that you can do to support the bees in your own backyard. Research the chemicals and pesticides you are using in your garden, leave little bowls of water out for them on really hot days, plant different flower species that blossom year-round and letting your herbs and veggies go to flower so the bees can feed on the nectar and pollen, these are all small things that you can do right now to aid their survival,” Celeste said.

Capilano MD takes the sting out of toxic honey reports

A recent article about alleged toxins in Australian honey published by FairFax Media is an “alarmist and sensationalist report of the issue of Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) in honey,” according to Dr Ben McKee, Managing Director of honey maker Capilano.

According to Dr McKee,  “Alkaloids are generated naturally by plants and are used as a defence mechanism. They have been detected in a range of foods including honey, teas, herbal products, milk, meat, grains and cereals.”

“Industry and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) recognises that honeys produced from Patterson's Curse (Echium plantagineum) will contain these alkaloids and that consumers should not exclusively eat large quantities of this honey (FSANZ 2011),” he said.

“The alkaloids known as echimidine and lycopsamine are the predominant ones found in Patterson's Curse honey and as a result of best practice modern farming techniques, the amount of honey produced from the agricultural weed Patterson's Curse has declined dramatically over the past decade, to next to nothing,” he noted.

“No longer do we see fields of purple flowering weeds in Australia. This change in the environment has resulted in an insignificant production of this type of honey in Australia and it is not considered a commercial honey that will be used in retail honey products.”

“Most notably,” said Dr McKee, “Patterson's Curse honey is not produced in commercial quantities in Australia. Despite this, there remains no scientific evidence illustrating that consuming such honey leads to unfavourable clinical human health concerns.”

“Consumers of quality Australian honey have nothing to fear and they should continue to enjoy our great natural Australian honeys without hesitation,” he concluded.