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Survey shows NZ bee loss is low, but needs attention

New Zealand's honey bee population continues to grow - with queen problems, varroa mites, starvation and wasps the leading causes of bee loss, asserts annual survey.

Registered beehives in New Zealand total around 880,000. “They've nearly doubled in six years, but there is still work to be done to protect bee health,” says Agcarm Chief Executive Mark Ross. "Bees have a vital role to play in food production and agriculture."

The Ministry for Primary Industries released findings of the 2018 NZ Colony Loss and Survival Survey, showing that overall losses averaged 10.2 percent.

“This loss is lower than overseas rates, but shows that we need to address biosecurity, colony health and beekeeping practices to keep a healthy bee population,” says Ross.

Colony deaths from queen problems accounted for over a third of losses during the 2018 winter season. The parasitic varroa mite - which feeds on bees - accounted for almost 20 percent, followed by starvation and wasps.

Interestingly, average loss rates were three times higher among non-commercial beekeeping enterprises, suggesting that there is work to be done in this area.

Loss rates were highest in the upper North Island and middle South Island, with lowest rates in the lower North Island.

The challenges for beekeepers include competition for apiary sites and overcrowding, especially in the upper North Island.

“The report shows that we have to make sure our bees are well-fed and protected from pests. But, overall, our bee population is thriving - which is good news,” says Ross.

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He adds that the survey is critical not only because it informs us on bee health, but because it allows us to make better choices to protect our bee population and to track changes on colony loss and survival for the future. “Taking care when spraying around bees – or arranging for hives to be moved will help protect them,” says Ross.

As a champion of bees, Agcarm will continue to work with the bee industry and the wider agricultural sector, to help ensure a healthy bee population.

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