Buzzing about bee biosecurity

29 Jun 2021

The state’s Chief Plant Protection Officer has marked the end of ‘Sugar Shake Season’ by thanking the state’s 12,000 registered beekeepers for helping to keep the country free of the scourge of Varroa mite.

NSW Chief Plant Protection Officer Dr Satendra Kumar said Australia is the last major honey producing country to resist the tiny parasite which will kill any hive it infects unless quickly treated.

“Varroa mite has proven impossible to eradicate from any country where it has become established,” Dr Kumar said.

“This scourge of beekeepers world-wide has spread across the globe but thanks to the efforts of NSW Department of Primary Industry, our beekeepers and our partner jurisdictions we have managed to shut the door on Varroa mite.

“Biosecurity is a shared responsibility and our beekeepers deserve thanks and recognition for the work they are doing with NSW DPI to preserve this critical industry and the wider horticulture and other primary industries which rely so much on it.

“Every autumn NSW beekeepers test their hives with ‘sugar shake’ tests to detect any varroa mite that could be out there and the response from beekeepers this year has again been incredible.

“NSW DPI recorded a 15 per cent increase in samples submitted for testing, which follows an 80 per cent increase the year before.

"That shows just how seriously our beekeepers are taking the threat of varroa mite.”

Dr Kumar said any varroa mite would have an enormous sting in its tail with losses estimated at $70 million per year should the pest become established.

Beekeepers and bee experts are also helping to ensure NSW is ready to respond to any varroa mite outbreak by joining the pilot of the Bee Emergency Response Training.

A small number of volunteers have signed on to form the nucleus of the group that will provide a pool of specialised personnel with apiary expertise who are ready for quick activation during an emergency.

More volunteers will be trained and will join the group in the coming months.

“This group will allow us to respond faster and more effectively to any bee biosecurity emergency and to avoid the establishment of exotic bee pests in Australia,” he said.

The most likely way for exotic bee pests like varroa mite to reach Australian shores is by feral bees hitching a ride on ships and their cargoes.

Dr Kumar said amateur beekeepers also work side-by-side with Government on Australia’s early warning system, the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program.

“The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program, administered by Plant Health Australia, sees a network of sentential hives and catch boxes installed at strategic locations around our ports and airports. Our Departmental staff and volunteers are crucial to the surveillance program.”

Any beekeeper who finds anything suspicious is urged to contact the NSW Biosecurity Helpline on 1800 680 244.

Media contact: 02 6391 3686