A buzzy year for honey bee and pollination research


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A honeybee approaching a peach blossom

The AgriFutures™ Honey Bee & Pollination Program continues to support leading research that ensures a productive and sustainable Australian beekeeping industry, and secures the pollination of our agricultural sector.

Australia’s 12,400 beekeepers are one-step closer to breeding varroa-resistant bees and trapping the serious and pervasive small hive beetle (SHB), as a result of industry’s ongoing investment in a robust research, development and extension (RD&E) program.

With a vision to grow the long-term prosperity of rural industries, AgriFutures Australia works with industry to deliver research and development outcomes. It works in partnership with the AgriFutures™ Honey Bee & Pollination Program Advisory Panel to determine research priorities and make investment decisions.

It’s a collaboration that continues to deliver positive benefits for the industry, according to newly appointed AgriFutures™ Honey Bee & Pollination Manager, Research Annelies McGaw. She believes the resilience of Australia’s beekeepers is reflected in the dynamic RD&E program, which aims to safeguard the health of Australia’s bees.

“Australian beekeeping is valued at $98 million, but its contribution to agriculture and the national economy is far greater,” said Ms McGaw.

“The RD&E Program addresses a number of key risks facing the industry including exotic pests and disease, economic pressures and reduced access to areas of native flora.

“We have 12 unique R&D projects underway that range from increasing the value of Australian honey as a health food to the probiotic development for bees by analysing gut bacteria in healthy bees, to name just a few.”

One of the year’s highlights was the findings of a three-year study into the SHB, led by Queensland researcher Dr Diana Leemon, which found that a lantern trap, together with a simple yeast based attractant, could effectively intercept and trap the SHB before it reached an apiary.

As the largest and leading apiary pest in warm, damp regions of eastern Australia, the SHB costs the industry $11 million on average per year. The project included the most comprehensive economic analysis of SHB ever undertaken, and provided a tangible outcome for industry to help manage the pest.

As Chair of the Advisory Panel, Doug Somerville said a key benefit of the Honey Bee & Pollination Program is its ability to bring together industry, leading researchers and government to collectively find solutions.

“A great example is AgriFutures Australia Science and Innovation award recipient, Dr Emily Remnant, from the University of Sydney, who is investigating how to build Australia’s capacity to develop varroa-resistant bees,” he said.

“Dr Remant’s research has great promise as a future strategy against the varroa virus. Her research is investigating injecting a natural type of bacteria called Wolbachia into the abdomen of honey bees. Her trailblazing work could help to solve the world’s most damaging cause of honey bee deaths.”

Mr Somerville said the year had not been without its challenges, including the ongoing public debate about the authenticity and origin of Australian honey.

“Australia’s beekeepers are among the best in the world and with the unprecedented movement of people and product it’s in everyone’s interest that there is a clear understanding of where our honey is sourced, as well as its botanical qualities,” he said.

Commissioned by AgriFutures Australia, a recent review by the University of Melbourne’s Dr Kale Sniderman found that the pollen content of most Australian honeys was distinctive at a global scale and that pollen analyses enabled our honeys to be identified and certified as produced in Australia.

Looking forward to 2019, Ms McGaw said a critical component of the program is extension and delivering research findings to beekeepers and the broader supply chain.

“Without beekeepers, our honey stops. Continuous investment in people is essential, and we strive to build our industry capability in a number of ways. Most recently, we invested in a Women in Beekeeping Scholarship and sponsored a number of key events around Australia.

“A highlight on the industry calendar was the Australian Bee Congress, returning for the first time in 30 years. Held on the Gold Coast earlier this year, participants heard first-hand from our leading researchers on their various levy funded RD&E projects and outcomes.”

The next major focus of the AgriFutures™ Honey Bee & Pollination Program is reviewing the current five-year RD&E Plan and identifying research objectives and priorities for the next plan, to be finalised by mid-2019.

For more information on the AgriFutures™ Honey Bee and Pollination Program, visit www.agrifutures.com.au/honey-bee-pollination/

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