Time Magazine has had bees on its front cover this past week, with a story by Bryan Walsh. Australian Lateline also had a story about the bee crisis in America, and our third and fourth generation was recently interviewed on ABC radio. It’s great to see bees getting a lot of attention, we certainly need people to listen.
We thought we could help you understand the Australian perspective – based on how we’ve watched these issues evolve over the past three decades.
We apologise in advance if we seem alarmist but this is scary stuff and it is a huge concern to us because we love our bees.
The thing is – bees have been dying in alarming numbers all over the world, for decades. But in the past 12 months it’s become a lot worse. America is now thought to be one bad winter way from a food disaster, with over 60% of the bees in America now involved in paid pollination services for American food. Over 1/3 of our diet is reliant on bees because bees pollinate the plants that make our food.
Australia isn’t far behind, and we shouldn’t become complacent.
Throughout the world, the vorroa mite has caused widespread bee losses.
In Australia, while we don’t yet have the vorroa mite, not long ago, we had a new bee-pest arrive on our shores: the hive beetle. It caused significant bee losses. It was an environmental shock and it drove some beekeepers out of the industry. Fortunately, most of the Australian beekeeping industry absorbed the shock and we have prevailed.
However, signs are emerging that the Australian beekeeping industry is buckling and similarities can be seen between Australia and the rest of the world. We’ve tried to spell it out clearly, so our apologies sorry if this seems intimidating.
This year, there aren’t enough bees to pollinate the almonds in California, and this year, the same thing is happening in Australia. Beekeepers who hadn’t previously been involved in the almond pollination in Victoria have been involved for the first time. They’ve travelled significant distances – and this the way pollination happens in America.
Fortunately, we have time to learn lessons from the rest of the world.
We appeal to you all to please learn the lessons while we have time to preserve our beekeeping industry and before Australia is drawn into a global food security crisis.
Protecting Australia’s bees
In other parts of the world, bees can be affected by bee diseases and pests. In many parts of the world, it’s been difficult to stop the spread of bee diseases and pests like the vorroa mite.
Fortunately, in Australia we have benefited from being an island because it separates us from the rest of the world. We have quite good quarantine measures to protect us and we also have government sponsored bee disease and pest control measures in place. Our network of beekeeping associations also means information about new diseases or pests can be spread quickly throughout the country.
BUT – there have been cuts to quarantine measures in the past and there are constant worries about the future of those quarantine measures. The spread of some pests is thought by some to be “inevitable” and this means some people think cuts to the way we protect our bees is OK. There are also going to be changes to how bee disease is monitored through government programs.
We encourage you all to see the lesson here from the rest of the world. If we change the way we protect our bees it changes our ability to protect our bees and the their role to pollinate crops important for our food supply.
Access to bee food
In other parts of the world, bees can be in a bee-food desert because of changes to farming practices. In many parts of the world soy beans (which have no flowers for bees) have become more popular. They have replaced lucerne and canola which, in the past, have provided bees with nectar and pollen.
Fortunately, Australian farmers still plant lucerne and canola and they can be an important source of food for bees when little else is flowering.
Fortunately, Australian beekeepers have access to large expanses of native bushland that contain a huge variety of native flora. Generally, when the weather is favourable, it means Aussie bees can gather rich nectar and pollen to stay healthy. This is important because bees need a varied diet just like you and me to stay healthy.
We’ve been encouraged to see the Victorian government release extra land for use by beekeepers.
But – there are some who think that beekeepers should not have access to forestry, national parks and crown lands. There are moves to exclude beekeeping access to these important bee food reservoir.
We would encourage you all to see the lesson here from the rest of the world. If we change the diet that bees have access to it can lead to malnutrition, which changes their ability to continue to pollinate crops important for our food supply.
Pesticides and fungicides
In other parts of the world, honeybees have been affected by pesticides. Even low doses of pesticides and fungicides are harmful.
In many parts of the world, the use of pesticides is changing. You’re probably aware that the European Union has banned some pesticides, the US is changing the way pesticides are labelled and other countries are looking closely at what that might mean for them in the future.
Fortunately, it is already illegal to spray crops in the day time if bees are in the crop. Australian beekeepers generally work collaboratively with people who use these pesticides. Farmers make contact with beekeepers before spraying and we have the opportunity to move bees before they are exposed to pesticides, if we have to.
Also, Australian beekeepers have access to large expanses of native bushland and that limits our exposure to pesticides and fungicides.
But – we can’t keep using pesticides in rural and urban areas and expect that nothing will happen.
We encourage you all to see the lesson here from the rest of the world.
We have time to change the way we use pesticides and fungicides to make sure we have bees in this country to pollinate plants that are important for our food supply.
Again, please accept our apologies if our attempt to connect to dots about bees makes our blog seem unbalanced.
The thing is, the rest of the world has problems with pollination and colony collapse, and we are seeing signs of the same issues in Australia.
If we keep doing the same thing as we do now then we expect we will experience more problems.
We are different to the rest of the world because we have biodiversity and Australia beekeeping is something we should all be incredibly proud and protective of.
If governments make cuts to the way we protect our bees or changes to bee food areas, it exposes us all to the risks that diseases, pests (eg vorroa mite) and poor bee nutrition bring with it.
When people continue to use pesticides and fungicides, it also exposes us all to the risks that those sprays bring.
If you hear our plea to protect our unique biodiversity and our bees, please take action.
Plant bee friendly plants and change the way you use pesticides and herbicides.
We especially encourage you to protect or plant the Yellow Box tree (Eucalyptus Melliodora) – its Australia’s best bee tree.
The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation have a free “Bee Friendly Planting Guide” that can help you. Please click here
Please share this information and let us know what you think….
The Honey Delight Family
People say there are a lot of foods that rely on the pollination of bees.
To help put that in perspective, here is a list of all the plants that rely on the pollination of bees.
Black and Red Currants
Orchid Plants Custard Apples
Acerola – used in Vitamin C supplements
Bok Choy (Chinese Cabbage)
Chili peppers,red peppers, bell peppers, green peppers
Black Eyed Peas