Fears for almond crop as bee mite spreads

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Authorities remain hopeful of eradicating the varroa mite in NSW as almond producers raise fears that restrictions on bee movements will endanger millions of dollars in produce.

Some 19 infested properties have been located since the mite was first detected at the Port of Newcastle on June 22.

Biosecurity zones set up to contain the mite’s spread stretch from Sydney to Buladelah on the Mid North Coast, with a separate zone established inland at Narrabri.

Additional cases were found at Lambton and Ferodale in the existing Newcastle and Port Stephens biosecurity zone.

Chris Anderson, from the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), said close epidemiological links in all the detected cases meant there was a good chance of eradicating the mite.

In the case at Narrabri, hives from the property had been stored for months near an infected location in the Newcastle area before being relocated.

“Further reporting by beekeepers and investigations by NSW DPI officers, identified the infestation at the property and established a new emergency zone around the property,” Dr Anderson said.

The department is asking anyone who acquired honeybees from within the 50km emergency notification zone surrounding the Port of Newcastle in the last 12 months to report them.

“Community reporting will importantly help us facilitate and free up the movement of honeybees in the rest of NSW, especially around almond pollination,” Dr Anderson said.

Almond Board Australia chief executive Tim Jackson said the almond industry’s billion-dollar crop was dependent on bee movement by the end of July.

He said 300,000 hives of bees needed to be moved into orchards along the southern Murray-Darling basin before trees started to blossom in August in one of the country’s biggest horticultural operations.

“There are some huge economic ramifications for beekepers and almond-growers for getting some sort of resolution by July 24 around the movement of bee hives,” he told AAP.

Mr Jackson said if bees weren’t able to be moved in time for pollination the almond industry could suffer production losses of half a billion dollars.

“If you don’t have pollination you don’t get a commercial-sized crop,” he said.

A ban on beekeepers moving or tending to their hives remains in place in NSW.

Flood-affected honeybees and hives can be moved to higher locations on the same property or within the same emergency zones under an exception introduced on the weekend.

Liv Casben
(Australian Associated Press)

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