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Varroa spreads but the ‘Battle for Bees’ goes on

23 August 2012

Varroa spreads but the ‘Battle for Bees’ goes on

By reaching Bluff in the 12 years since the Varroa Mite was first confirmed in Auckland, one of the world’s worst bee threats is close to completing its colonisation of New Zealand.

“Has Varrora had an impact on New Zealand? Absolutely,” confirms John Hartnell, Federated Farmers Bees chairperson and a major exporter of bee products.

“If it wasn’t for human intervention, the economic and agronomic effects of Varroa would be like Foot & Mouth disease. Our economy and farming system depends on honeybees and a pollination workforce involving some 430,000 hives.

“That should give pause for thought as we celebrate the Honey Bee this week and the massive contribution this mighty insect makes to us all. The value of pollination alone is conservatively estimated at $5 billion each year.

“Bees are the tireless and unsung heroes of our world-beating farm system. They bat for us 100 percent each time they fly and don’t let us down, but perhaps, we let them down.

“We have lost thousands of hives that once lived wild in the walls and ceilings of sheds, in hollowed out trees and even, in people’s homes. These wild colonies did not have beekeeper support and have succumbed to the Varroa Mite.

“Honey bees were once common in your garden or vegetable patch but are now a rarity.

“To fight Varroa, beekeepers use special ‘miticides’ to kill the mite and not the bee. These are expensive and must be used at least twice-yearly to maintain a stable hive. The cost of containing Varroa is around $50 per hive each year making it a massive expense.

“The need to use of miticides means our industry has mostly lost its organic status. There are a few determined beekeepers trying to fight Varroa using organic treatments, but it is challenging and unfortunately, tends to have a high failure rate.

“Because beekeepers are farmers too, we need our colleagues in pastoral farming and horticulture to be on the ‘Bee Team’ bus.

“We want our colleagues to be aware that what they do on-farm can really help or hinder the bees we all depend upon. That is why we have put together our top four tips for how the ‘Bee Team’ can win farming’s A-League,” Mr Hartnell concluded.

Federated Farmers top-tips for the Bee Team:

• Take care when using agricultural sprays, particularly when plants are in flower. The simple rule to follow is if bees are flying, don’t spray your crops or pasture until dusk.

• Before using agricultural chemicals, be certain handlers read all directions related to its use, handling, mixing and any ‘do’s and don’ts’. Specifically check any impact upon on livestock, which includes the honeybee. If you are in doubt, contact the company direct or your farm supplies merchant.

• While irrigators may be standing idle given widespread rain, farmers need to remember bees cannot swim. If bees are chilled by water they will die so when you do start to irrigate, do it only during the non-flying times of dusk until dawn.

• Finally, when it comes to trees and plantings on-farm, consult Federated Farmers’ Trees for Bees and one of our ten regional planting guides; these offer an excellent win-win for your farm and honeybees alike.


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