Beekeepers throw support behind genetic improvement


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Around 94% of Australian beekeepers see value in a national honey bee genetic improvement program, such as Plan Bee.

That’s according to a survey of 109 beekeepers recently conducted by the University of Sydney and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) as part of the Australian Government Rural R&D for Profit, Plan Bee Genetic Improvement Program.

Consistent with findings from the corresponding study in 2020, 64% of beekeepers were happy with the quality of queens they were purchasing, however only half of large commercial beekeepers were happy. High aggression was citied as the most common reason that both recreational and commercial beekeepers found queens undesirable.

Dr Nadine Chapman, lead researcher within the Plan Bee Genetic Improvement Program, said the findings will be instrumental in guiding the future of the Plan Bee program.

“This is the third time we have conducted this survey and each time, beekeepers have provided us with useful insights that have guided our program,” she said.

The survey asked respondents about their queen replacement strategies, what colony traits are most important to them and their overall perceptions of genetic improvement.

According to Dr Chapman, having a deeper understanding of what beekeepers want is critical to the delivery of genetic improvement to the Australian beekeeping industry.

“The findings from this study are critical for our program,” she said.

“By understanding the queen replacement strategies for both recreational and commercial beekeepers we can design a more appropriate genetic improvement program.

“In the same vein, by understanding what traits are most desirable for beekeepers we can focus our program accordingly.

Understandably, honey production was by far the most desirable trait for surveyed beekeepers, which was consistent across recreational, small commercial and large commercial beekeepers.

However, when traits are further examined and segmented, it becomes clear that the needs of smaller beekeepers differs from that of large commercial beekeepers.

For example, the second most desirable trait for recreational beekeepers is low aggression, which is of much less concern for large commercial beekeepers.

Large commercial beekeepers are much more interested in pest resistance and queen acceptance.

Respondents were also asked about what their concerns for the Plan Bee program are, which Dr Chapman says will result in an evolution of the program as it heads into its final year.

“Industry told us that one of their biggest concerns was how queens from the program will be distributed,” she said.

“Armed with this knowledge, we are focusing on firming up our queen distribution plan, which will revolve around the distribution of queens to other queen bee breeders to improve the national stock.

“Beekeepers also told us that it was important that testing be done in a variety of environments and climates given the impact that climate may have on traits.

“In phase 2 of this project we will be launching genotype-by-environment experiments to track how the same stock will perform in different environments.

As the project moves towards its completion in 2023, this survey is welcome justification for the importance of genetic improvement

“The beekeeping industry is a diverse community and this survey has highlighted that different sectors have different needs,” Dr Chapman said.

“The most exciting aspect of the survey was the confirmation that the industry sees the value in a national bee breeding program and is confident that the use of modern breeding techniques will increase the chance of success.

“The Plan Bee team is excited to continue our construction of the infrastructure required to support bee breeders, with a strong focus on education and demonstration of what the program can achieve for the whole of industry.”

The full survey findings are available via the Plan Bee website here

To keep up to date with the Plan Bee project, please subscribe to the mailing list via AgriFutures here:


For media enquiries please call Sam Cox from Cox Inall Communications 0401 464 664

Plan Bee (National Honey Bee Genetic Improvement Program) is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as part of its Rural Research and Development for Profit program. The project is further supported by AgriFutures Australia, the Department of Regional NSW, University of Sydney, University of New England Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, Better Bees WA Inc, Wheen Bee Foundation, Costa Group, Olam, Beechworth Honey, Monson’s Honey and Pollination, South Pacific Seeds, Australian Queen Bee Breeders Association, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, and commercial beekeepers

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