Survey reveals queen bee production insights

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Results from a new survey provide valuable insights into queen bee production across Australia and queen products sold to domestic and export markets.

Plan Bee, Australia’s national honey bee genetic improvement program, has released results from a nationwide survey into queen production for the 2020-21 season to report on the state of queen production nationally.

The survey is the first of its kind to describe values for queen and package bee sales from all major Australian beekeeping states.

It also provides valuable insights into queen products sold to domestic and export markets, and market access.

Before the survey was undertaken, no official, nationwide data on domestic or export queen and package bee sales had been recorded or reported formally in Australia.

Australia’s honey bee industry is underpinned by a specialised queen breeding and production sector.

There are opportunities in domestic and export markets for the queen sector, however, the limited number of skilled queen bee breeders is a major constraint.

Growing global markets for Australian queens and package bees are potentially lucrative, however the marketplace is further constrained by major risks including freight costs and the threat of export bans.

A total of 34.3% of survey respondents were from New South Wales, 22.9% from Queensland, 14.3% from Tasmania, 14.3% from Western Australia, 5.7% from Victoria, 2.9% from South Australia, and 5.7% did not disclose their location.

Plan Bee co-lead researcher, Elizabeth Frost, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), said there were a total of 35 survey respondents, who sold a total of 41,803 queen products domestically while 2,664 queen products were exported.

“Meanwhile 17.6% of respondents did not sell any queen products, instead breeding queens solely for use within their own enterprise,” Ms Frost said.

“The full range of products were reported in domestic sales including naturally and artificially inseminated queens, package bees, nucleus colonies, queen cells, virgin queens, and naturally mated breeder queens mated in specific geographically isolated breeding locations.

“Survey respondents reported selling 2,664 exported queen products, all originating from Western Australia with 99% exported to Canada and 1% exported to Fiji.

“It’s important to note the survey was undertaken before Varroa destructor (Varroa mite) was detected in NSW in June 2022. Varroa mite is likely to impact queen production and the sale of queen products to domestic and export markets, but how and to what extent, we don’t know at this stage.”

Additional information on queen bee production was also sought outside the survey. The NSW DPI annual market access reporting yielded additional details on 2021–2022 queen bees and package bee sales for NSW to the interstate domestic and export markets.

A number of recommendations have been made based on survey findings.

They include the establishment of an official register of Australian queen breeders and producers to assist the domestic market to locate production or breeder queens to purchase and sustain their business enterprises, while also connecting queen breeders and producers to potential new markets.

“Clear delineation of queen breeders and producers will assist in the development of a market for queen breeders of elite selected stock. Queen breeding requires additional work that must be remunerated, which is difficult when the market doesn’t understand the difference,” Ms Frost said.

“The low volume of queen exports as well as domestic sales proportionate to registered beekeepers do not justify raising the queen bee levy, which is currently set at zero.”

View full survey findings here
View factsheet here
For more information visit the Plan Bee program here

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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