Australia’s orchards turn to native bees for pollination

Australia’s orchards turn to native bees for pollination

Farmers who have ensured native bee populations are booming on their orchards are breathing a sigh of relief, with the insect immune from the biosecurity emergency involving a hive-killing mite.

As part of efforts to contain the spread of the Varroa destructor - commonly known as the varroa mite, officials have ordered the destruction of more than 300 hives in the Newcastle area.

The biosecurity crisis could cost the honey bee industry $70 million, with the flow-on effects to the crops that use them for pollination still unknown.

The disaster has only affecting European honey bees, according to Tim Heard, an entomologist.

He said that the biology of the mite, their life cycle and the way they feed on their host are very in tune with their host and so we don't believe that they can jump to other species, including our native bees.

Some fruit and vegetable growers who have stingless Australian bee populations on their farms have been a relief from that.

Warren Yeomans grows a variety of fruit including cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, apples and pears at his Armidale orchard in New South Wales' New England region.

He said his native bee population had thrived and he had not needed honey bees to pollinate his crops.

I've always been watching how many bees are around so I'm aware of trees with bees in them and I keep an eye on them, Mr Yeomans said.

I'm reasonably confident that I'll have enough local bee activity with the environment around me. Macadamia growers in the NSW coastal region are hopeful that they will be able to turn to native bees for pollination.

With an array of other pollinator options to work with, Australian Macadamia Society chief executive Jolyn Burnett said that his industry was in a more fortunate position than others.

We still depend on honey bees to make sure we get good pollination and hence a good crop. Burnett said coastal NSW macadamia orchards were often close to bushland, where populations of various insects helped pollinate crops.

Here in the Northern Rivers, the average orchard is between 10 and 15 hectares and is very often surrounded by bits of remnant bushland and a wide variety of other vegetation and other crops, and there are a lot of indigenous insects that contribute to it down here. It is possible that it could be a different story for some larger Queensland orchards.

The orchards in Bundaberg, the other major macadamia growing region, are usually between 80 and 100 hectares in size and cropping is extensive throughout the region, according to Burnett.

There is less remnant vegetation, so we do expect that the impact on the crop in Bundaberg would be more severe if this mite gets out and has an impact on honey bees.