Project snapshot: Increasing the value of Australian honey as a health food
Honey has a long history of use to treat digestive ailments and research suggests honey acts as a prebiotic food that favourably changes the balance...
Published: 24 Apr 2023
Author(s): Michael Clarke
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The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is vital to more than 35 species of agricultural plants that rely on the honey bee for pollination. This economically important service is in addition to the 30,000 tonnes of honey produced in Australia each year. Public floral resources such as national parks and Crown lands are used by the industry to ensure honey bees are healthy and prepared for a pollination event, and to produce honey.
In 2019-20, approximately 15.6 million hectares of mostly public land forest resource on the east coast of Australia was impacted by bushfires. To understand the implications and impacts of these bushfires on the industry, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) and AgriFutures Australia developed the Bushfire Recovery Plan. One concern that became evident during development of the plan was the possibility of increased pressure on honey bee biosecurity due to fewer available floral resources.
This project assessed the impact on honey bee biosecurity of reduced access to public land floral resources as a result of the 2019-20 bushfire crisis. It investigated current biosecurity programs and practices, gaps in biosecurity coverage, beekeeper use of public lands and biosecurity risk as a result of changes in the beekeeper’s enterprise.
Gaps in the coverage of public and private biosecurity programs and practices create persistent pest and disease problems for Australian beekeepers. These problems are exacerbated by beekeepers working in closer proximity to each other, whether that is on bushfire-depleted public land, on private land needed to make up for lost public land, or at paid pollination events.
This study found that while loss of public land apiary resource as a result of the 2019-20 bushfire crisis may have been marginal at the industry level, the impacts on individual beekeepers were significant. The 2019-20 bushfire crisis contributed to overall pressure the industry is under to secure feed resources for its livestock and maintain a healthy honey bee population for honey production and pollination purposes.
Recommendations relate to fine-tuning policy pertaining to honey bee and forestry management, technology to improve honey bee biosecurity, supplementary feeding of honey bees, and future research and development investment.