$1.3m project to help our honey bees

Tocal is soon to be home to a million-dollar honey bee program.

The program has won state funding to breed queen bees with superior honey production, disease resistance and pollination performance. 

The apiary is expected to have 250 hives, a honey extraction plant and equipment to allow for instrumental insemination of bees.

For Elizabeth Frost, Honey Bee Industry Development Officer, based at Tocal Agricultural College, the investment is exciting for both the industry and the environment.

“We are very lucky that in Australia we don’t have the (destructive bee parasite) Varroa mite, but we’re at a tipping point in terms of pollination,” she said.

She said currently, there is only one stud breeder in the country producing queen bees.

“That operator is doing a fantastic job but we need to reduce the risk (to the queen bee population),” she said.

NSW Department of Primary Industries has put $1.3million into the scientific bee breeding project to be based at Tocal Agricultural College.

Ms Frost said while there’s been a lack of investment and understanding of the queen bee in general, establishing a national database of honeybee traits would “kickstart” the industry.

New South Wales leads the pack in honey production in Australia with  800 registered beekeepers accounting for 40 per cent of the nation’s honey production.

Tocal already runs a nationally accredited training for the beekeeping industry.

Ms Frost said the great expertise available in terms of genetics used in other breeding programs from UNE and Agribusiness such as the beef cattle industry, will now go into the bee industry.

“The focus will be on production and health traits of the bees,” she said.

“We’re lucky the government is willing to invest in what is considered a smaller industry but one that provides three to four billion dollars value through pollination services.”

What can we do?

Ms Frost said we can all play our part in helping our 1600 native bee species.

“Everybody can plant flowers, plant flowering shrubs, keep eucalyptus around and keep the use of insecticides to an absolute minimum.

“Even backyard sprays can do damage to the bees.”

Ms Frost who is a native of California in the United States moved to Australia “as the beekeeping is better”.

With  a Bachelors degree in English and Italian with a minor in Entomology, insects are her true passion.

A masters in Entomology is in her sights as she continues to find her day job fascinating.

How it will work

The new apiary will be a  traditional nomadic style operation of 200 production hives (which house 50,000 bees) and 50 breeeder queen colonies.

Two distinct apiaries,100 hives of Italian stock at one apiary and 100 hives of Carniolan stock at the other, will be migrated around NSW. This will include key floristic events such as almond and canola pollination and seasonal eucalypt flowering.

Ms Frost said these locations will serve as testing grounds for honey production, brood viability, disease resistance, temperament and, pending horticulture industry funding, pollination efficiency.  

The 200 migratory hives and 50 breeder queen colonies will be managed as a breeding population – excitingly the colony will get a refresh of the core breeder queens with artificially inseminated daughter queens.

Take a look inside a hive:

Honey Bee Production Program

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the genetic improvements could be worth up to $41 million over the next 25 years. 

“Currently there is no significant genetic improvement of managed honey bees in Australia and anecdotal evidence suggests the quality of breeder queens is declining,” Mr Blair said.

“Our researchers will now begin to evaluate the suitability of Australian and overseas honey bee populations and use these results to produce superior queen bees for commercial breeders.”

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