Push to train more beekeepers

There is a need for a new generation of beekeepers according to a co-operative research centre for honey bee products, which will be based in Yanchep. Picture: Centre for Integrative Bee Research

THERE will be an opportunity for a new generation of beekeepers to get training when a co-operative research centre for honey bee products opens in Yanchep.

The co-operative research centre to be housed at the Innovation Hub on the corner of Yanchep Beach Rd and Welwyn Ave wants the number of professional beekeepers to double to 2600.

In a presentation the University of Western Australia said the nation needed more managed bee hives and skilled beekeepers as agriculture in Australia depended on honeybee pollination.

“If you took the bees away, immediately Australia would produce 25.8 per cent less food produce,’’ the presentation said.

“Lack of an entry pathway to beekeeping to create a new generation of beekeepers has been identified as the limiting factor.

“This has resulted in the beekeeper population ageing and reducing in numbers.

“We have a growing hobby interest but a shrinking professional group.’’

Dr Liz Barbour from the university’s office of research enterprise said being based in Yanchep would help the co-operative research centre in its aim to expand the bee industry in new regions of WA.

“This will be a good spot for looking north,’’ she said.

As well as increasing the number of professional beekeepers and adding an extra 250,000 bee hives, the co-operative research centre aimed to increase the value of honey products from $80 million to $500m through market stratification and increase in product supply.

It also wanted to protect the agriculture industry that required honey bee pollination, which was valued between $12.4 billion to $27.2b on the shelf.

The presentation said 44 of the nation’s food crops relied on honey bee pollination.

“Honey bee products, especially honey, are undervalued.

“Australia has barely moved its value proposition in the last 5 years, whereas New Zealand, Europe and China vastly increased their profitability through different marketing strategies.

“We are interested in the New Zealand approach.

“New Zealand’s success is based on Manuka honey.

“Through methodical scientific research, they discovered that Leptospermum scoparium produces a highly active antimicrobial honey.

“Whereas most honeys are antimicrobial through the presence of hydrogen peroxide, Manuka has a different activity.

“Leptospermum produce DHA in the nectar which when incorporated into the honey converts to MGO, the active and persistent antimicrobial agent.

“In New Zealand there is one species L. scoparium.

“In Australia we have L. scoparium as well as 80 other endemic species.

“This opens many opportunities to add value to the honey bee products, and create new hive sites.

“The next challenge identified was the migratory nature of beekeeping in Australia.

“Beekeepers are always chasing the next flowering event to keep the bee hives alive and healthy – beekeepers can move their bee hives 20 times a year.

“Varroa is a sucking mite which kills colonies of bees.

“The pest surrounds Australia.

“Our quarantine measures have protected us but it is inevitable that this disease will arrive.

“When it does, all the feral or wild bees that provide a free pollination service will die.

“Only managed hives will provide pollination services.

“Australia has 500,000 hive but for pollination security it has been calculated that we need 750,000 hives.

“We have a shortfall of hives and beekeepers to manage those hives.”

The presentation said native bush bee hive sites were critical for the health of bees but Australia losing them for various reasons.

“Climate change, especially the extremes we are now experiencing more frequently, bring fire and flood as well as land use and policy changes block beekeepers from many of their sites.

“We have to find a way to protect and create new hive sites to keep our bees healthy.

“Another critical factor to bee health is a rapid diagnosis and response to diseases.

“We need tools for rapid and accurate identification in the field and to help the new beekeeper generation to up-skill in disease control.’’

Yanchep Beach Joint Venture executive manager Jon Kelly said UWA was one of the exciting tenants at the new Innovation Hub.

“We are expecting another university to join us,’’ he said.