Have you been thinking about those bees?

Bees are an integral part of New Zealand's agriculture and often forgotten. Failure to remember them could bee to your loss.

Firstly, let's take a brief look at how the hive works. A hive has a queen bee and she is fed by nurse bees. All the workers bees are out collecting pollen and honey over the summer season.

A hive should last indefinitely as the bee-keeper knows he must manually replace the queen bee every 12 – 18 months to keep up the virility and vigour of the hive. A queen bee is purchased from a "Queen Breeder" at a cost of $20 - $25 each.

Over the winter months, the bee-keeper will feed the bees sugar. The bees collect the sugar and convert it to honey, utilizing it to keep the hive alive, as well as storing some of it. When the temperatures warm up, they (the workers) are off to find flowers for pollen and honey collection.

But bees in New Zealand are under tremendous threats. I list the top 3 threats as follows:

1. Already Varroa Bee Mite has wiped out most of the wild bee population, which used to pollinate flowers and clover etc. It has also reduced the number of hives by some 30,000 and subsequently 5,000 bee-keepers have gone.

So there is no free pollination anymore and Varroa Bee Mite has increased bee-keepers costs on a per hive basis to keep them Varroa free.

2. The next big threat is orchardists spraying insecticides. Many orchards spray up to ten times per year and every time they spray they are likely to be killing bees. If you spray one day, or even at night say, then the bees arrive the next morning to collect pollen and hey presto they all die. As a friend of mine said "it's like somebody shooting all your dairy cows and there is nothing more depressing than to go to a hive and find all the bees dead at the door".

Bees will travel up to 5 kilometres in search of food, so phoning the next door neighbour may not suffice in keeping the bees away from sprays. This was brought home to me on my own avocado orchard recently. We were about to do a winter clean up spray, when we found the neighbours had hives on their property to help a bee- keeper out over winter. The bees were still working on warm sunny days and we would have wiped out a lot of his bees by spraying.

There are bee-friendly sprays, but they may not be as effective against bugs, so farmers need to do further research here.

3. The third biggest threat to bees is the importation of honey from Australia under the CER Agreement. This will almost certainly bring in EFB (European Foul Brood). This is a ferocious disease, which attacks the larvae in the hives, killing them.

Now New Zealand is a net exporter of honey and we have no reason whatsoever to import from Australia. The Government insists they must under the Agreement, I mean Australia won't let our apples in, so why should we allow their honey to come here and threaten a very integral part of New Zealand agriculture.

Now that I have explored how the hive works and what the three main problems are around bees, let's take a look at what might the effect to New Zealand's agriculture bee without them. Pollination of horticultural crops would almost certainly bee reduced, which would reduce fruit set, thereby reducing return to the farmers. A number of bee-keepers refuse to put hives into orchards where they know insecticide spraying will be done. This is mainly in the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay areas.

The costs of getting hives into orchards will rise up from $180 to $200 per hive. Some areas may not even be able to get hives into their orchards to do the pollination and remember, all the wild bees are gone. Pollination of New Zealand's clover crops, which form the basis of the natural nitrogen cycle will cease. This could bee catastrophic for New Zealand because much of New Zealand's agriculture is based around the clover crop. I note with interest that a PhD student has found that colour and taste of beef and sheep meats may bee heavily influenced by clover consumption, i.e. no bees, no clover.

In summary, all bees in New Zealand are under threat. Insect sprays, Varroa Bee Mite and EFB are the greatest threat to their existence. We all need to understand and become more aware of the issues surrounding the bees' rural existence. We need to try and understand the issues for the Bee Keeper and work with them, rather than against them.

Failure to do so could affect every farmers back pocket in the future. It may wipe out an essential natural little fellow that is an integral part of the cycle of life for New Zealand agriculture.


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