Australia restricts bee movements as bloom nears

July 27, 2022

A varroa mite incursion in Australia could result in a reduction of bees to help pollinate almond trees in the country’s key production region with bloom fast approaching.

The parasite blamed for wiping out hives around the world was discovered last month at the Port of Newcastle in New South Wales (NSW). It’s the parasite’s first known incursion into Australia.

In response, authorities in the neighboring state of Victoria are limiting the movement of hives into the state from NSW. About 60% of Australia’s almond crop is grown in Victoria, which relies on hives coming from NSW for pollination. Bloom begins in early August.

“The timing could not have been worse,” said Damien Houlahan, a grower and packer, and board member of the Almond Board of Australia, which represents almond growers in Australia. “It’s still very much an unknown what yield impact this is going to have.”

Varroa mites feed on adult honey bees and on bee larvae and pupae, where the parasites do the most damage. The mites spread diseases and weaken bee colonies.

NSW biosecurity officers discovered the parasites in hives on  June 24 during a routine check. In subsequent surveillance checks, officers discovered the mites in more hives in the state, Agriculture Victoria, the state’s agriculture division, wrote on its website.

Authorities destroyed the infested hives and no incursions have been reported outside of NSW. 

Authorities in Victoria declared a control area in the state to limit the movement of hives within Victoria and have prohibited entry of hives from NSW without a permit, according to the website. It’s unclear how Victoria’s permitting process will work in practice and how it could evolve as bloom approaches.

“It’s still a very fluid situation,” Houlahan said.

The lockdown could cut stocking rates – the supply of hives used to pollinate orchards – by between 50% and 60% in Victoria during bloom, Houlahan said.

Bloom was expected to start on August 5 but forecasts for cooler weather could delay the start. Transporting hives to orchards prior to bloom typically begins now.

The potential effect on yields from a hive reduction is unclear. Other factors such as weather during bloom, bee flight hours, and pollination cross-over in orchards are also important. 

To compensate for fewer hives, beekeepers could employ methods such as filling hives with sugar syrup, which can supercharge hives to make bees more active.

Australia’s other main almond-growing regions are South Australia and NSW. Those states could be less impacted by hive lockdowns, industry experts said. 

Australia exported about 209 million lbs during its last crop year, roughly 6% of the global supply.

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