Plan Bee researcher profile: Tiff Bates

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Plan Bee is a national genetic improvement program using innovative breeding technologies to transform the performance of honey bees in Australia. The project team are located throughout the country and are experts on everything from genetics, entomology and beekeeping practices. As the nationwide program rolls out, we will be introducing key members of the team to understand more about the people driving this program forward.

In this profile we introduce Tiff Bates Apiary Manager for the CRCHBP at the University of Western Australia, one of the core team members of the Plan Bee program.

Give us a bit about your background?

I grew up on a bee farm in New Zealand, where my grandparents and father ran a successful honey business. I have very fond memories of growing up on the farm but I never had any intention of becoming a beekeeper.

After moving across the ditch to Australia and wanting to avoid working in hospitality while I was at University, I landed a job with esteemed researcher Dr Rob Manning who encouraged me to revisit my beekeeping roots.

Fast-forward a few years and I’ve carved out an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding career within the industry, exploring beekeeping, queen breeding and academia learning from some of the absolute legends of the industry like Rob Manning, Colin Fleay, Ronnie Clarke and John Davies along the way.

I even started my own queen breeding business which I later sold to join the University of Western Australia as a research officer.

What drew you to an interest in bees?

Even though the beekeeping industry is in my blood, I made sure I took the time to travel the world and explore all the paths I could take in life.

As it turned out, life took me back to beekeeping and I haven’t looked back since.

What I realised is that honey bees are remarkable and will be endlessly interesting to work with for a lifetime.

Along the way, I have met some of the most interesting, passionate and intelligent people and I’m proud to be part of this community and an industry that has such a significant impact.

Can you talk us through a typical working day for you?

I definitely do not have a typical work day – and that’s why I love what I do!

In a nutshell, my role as a research officer is about translation and communication. I serve as a liaison between the industry and researchers and with my experience working in the field, I try to bring together these two groups (who often speak two different languages!), together on the same page.

I work with beekeepers to determine what the most pressing issues in the industry and then work with researchers to determine how we can solve those problems for beekeepers. It’s incredibly rewarding!

My days can be unpredictable. Particularly in the spring time, most of my time is spent out in the field working closely with both beekeepers and researchers to ensure projects are working towards objectives that will benefit the industry.

And whilst the variability is exciting, on the flip side, there is also a strong theme of seasonality, which ebbs and flows as the weather changes. This allows us to ensure that the daily unpredictability is balanced by forward planning!

 

What is your role in the Plan Bee project?

Myself and John Davies, chairman of Better Bees WA, represent the Western Australian contingent of the project and our team supports Western Australian breeders in their genetic selection endeavours. We work closely with breeders to help capture data for inclusion in the Plan Bee Program.

Outside of the day-to-day, my real-world experience is also leveraged by the program via the Management Committee which I am a member of.

I’ve got 16 years of experience in playing conduit between beekeepers, researchers and the bees themselves so I can help ensure that the project is guided by beekeeper reality at all times.

What is your vision for Plan Bee?

Improving the genetic performance of Australia’s beekeeping stock is a long game. In 2010 I had the great luck toundertake a Churchill Fellowship to investigate the possibilities surrounding breeding bees for Varroa tolerance.  This helped give me a worldwide perspective on the need for preparation of our bee stocks for change.

Plan Bee is incredibly exciting because it is the first truly national opportunity to bring together all the brilliant bee minds across the country to build our capacity as an industry to cope with challenges or change.

We’re learning lessons from overseas and we are now in the enviable position that we are being proactive and when a shift is required we can do it in a graceful and organise way.

However, we’ve got lots of work to do and the more people we can get involved, in helping us in the twofold task of setting up standardised seletion criteria for breeding stock and in building a national genetic database, the stronger the program will become. We will know more about our stock and the environments that work best. We will be prepared for anything.

Importantly though, it takes a lot of work to get this right – it’s never been done in Australia before. So, I call for patience, we need to the support of the industry to be successful, so please trust in the vision and we will all reap the rewards.

How can interested beekeepers reach out to you?

Get in touch directly via email:

Plan Bee (National Honey Bee Genetic Improvement Program) is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment 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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