Funding for bushfire-affected beekeepers
The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) has welcomed the announcement of a $600,000 federal government grant to help the honey bee and pollination sector recover from the devastating summer bushfires of 2019/2020.
Announced by Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, the investment will be managed by rural research and development corporation AgriFutures Australia and will fund research to help the industry rebuild after what was an enormously destructive event. This work will include the exploration of hive management technology which can be used after bushfires.
AHBIC Chair Trevor Weatherhead says the grant will be warmly welcomed by beekeepers as an investment in their industry’s recovery after the heavy losses caused by the fires.
“The summer bushfires took a heavy toll on the Australian honey bee industry, destroying more than 15 million hectares of native forest, burning more than 12,000 hives and weakening around 100,000 hives due to smoke,” he says. “That meant critical nectar and pollen sources for honey bee colonies were lost, and many areas that would be typically used by beekeepers to support their hives were burnt out, and will take years to recover.”
A bushfire recovery plan developed by AHBIC in partnership with AgriFutures Australia has revealed that Australian honey production has fallen since the fires due to the significant loss of beehives across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It’s estimated that Australia’s economy could lose $147 million as a result of the bushfires’ impact on honey and hive production. Weatherhead says there have also been deep concerns that many beekeepers could leave the industry.
“We have sadly heard from some people who are contemplating leaving their profession as a result of the bushfires,” he says. “We hope this new government help will encourage beekeepers to continue to rebuild and provide them with new ways to care for their bees.
“Given honey bees help to provide one in every three mouthfuls of food consumed in this nation, we simply cannot afford for our valued beekeepers to exit the industry.”
There was already long-running pressure on beekeepers due to the prolonged drought, which gripped much of Australia prior to the bushfires. The recent NSW floods also saw the loss of millions of bees. Weatherhead says that in the aftermath of such extreme weather events, stress-related health issues have been affecting many beekeepers.
“These unavoidable weather events have been highly stressful for the people who keep our industry going, providing honey to consumers and essential pollination to Australian crops,” he says. “It’s been a testament to the strength and skill of our beekeepers that they’ve been able to bring their hives back to health to continue providing these essential services.
“However, the mental health impacts must not be dismissed. We saw beekeepers physically fighting fires as they tried to save their homes and honey bees, and this had a compounding impact on people’s mental wellbeing, given the consecutive years of drought and flood.”
Consumers will also benefit from the investment in the honey bee industry, which contributes an estimated $150 million annually to Australian economy through honey production, and a further $14.2 billion annually through the pollination of crops. Honey bee pollination yields healthy and nutritious foods including avocados, almonds, macadamias, pumpkin, watermelon, kiwifruit, cucumbers, blueberries, zucchini and apples.