The Australian honey bee industry is pushing for greater access to forage in national parks, as a growing demand for crop pollinators sparks concern about food availability.
It comes amid a boom in almond plantations across southern Australia, which is estimated to require 100,000 more beehives in coming years.
Australian Honey Bee Industry Council executive director Trevor Weatherhead said more bees would bring the need for better access to nectar and pollen.
“At the present time there is probably just enough to go around,” he said.
“The biggest issue facing beekeepers in Australia today is that resource access and security of that access.
“There will be extra areas needed for rejuvenating those bees in the time after pollination and also for the rest of the year.”
Trevor Weatherhead says access to suitable resources is one of the biggest issues facing the honey bee industry.
ABC News: Ashleigh Stevenson
No plans to change access in South Australia
South Australia Riverland region honey producer Naiomi Vanderwoude said tweaking legislation to open up more areas to forage would be welcomed.
“We really need a joint effort to work out a bit of a strategic plan. Perhaps we can have some access to more public areas.”
According to South Australia’s Department of Environment and Water (DEW), there are 14 national parks and reserves licensed for bees in South Australia.
DEW Mallee and Coorong district manager Paul Gillen said it had no plans to change the situation in South Australia.
“The department views that it will maintain the current number of bee site licences across the state,” he said.
“More bee sites may get added to the reserve system if they are already existing on land that we then acquire and add.
“We are still able to consider requests for new bee sites, as long as they are supported by relevant research.”
Going nuts for almonds
Bees play a crucial role in pollinating fruit and nut crops such as almonds.
ABC Rural: Lara Webster
Growing consumer demand for almonds has resulted in a spike in almond-tree plantings in southern Australia, with estimates the overall production could hit 120,000 tonnes by 2025.
Almond Board of Australia chief executive Ross Skinner said the boom since 2016 had resulted in an extra 10,000 hectares of almond trees being planted.
“The almond industry is totally dependent on the honey bee industry for pollination, as our varieties need to be cross-pollinated,” Mr Skinner said.
“Currently we are sitting at around 40,000 hectares. With what we believe will be planted in future, we actually think the hive numbers that we will require going forward will be increased by another 100,000 hives.
“Access to floral resources to build up hive numbers is something the almond industry is very supportive of.”
Mr Weatherhead said sufficient food access was important to preserve bee health.
“If they do not have good pollen supplies, then the bees will drop the strength of their bodies and the fat contents in their bodies will drop,” he said.
“Overall, if they do not have sufficient food supplies, then they will become weaker and the hive will not produce as effectively as it can.”
Hundreds of bees are generally needed to pollinate almond orchards to produce nuts.
ABC News: Brittany Evins
Farmers encouraged to get planting
As the industry pushes for more support in conservation parks, one pollination expert believes landowners and farmers can do their bit in feeding pollinators by putting in more native plants.
University of Adelaide associate professor Katja Hogendoorn said pollen from the crop alone was not enough to support bee health.
“We cannot live for one month on potatoes and then another on spinach. We need to eat a range of foods,” she said.
Dr Hogendoorn is involved with a study investigating what crops farmers can plant to support pollination.
She said everyone could do their bit in supporting animal health.
“What we show is when there is native vegetation around the crop, that the grower benefits with increased yields,” she said.
“But there is also governments that … need to be proactive in planting native plants to support the health of all animals.
“If you compare a native Australian landscape to a cropping landscape … the amount of food that is available in those landscapes is a lot less.”