Victorian almond growers face massive beehive shortage for pollination, due to varroa mite outbreak

Up to 16,000 registered Victorian beehives that were stranded in southern New South Wales due to the varroa mite outbreak can now be returned home.

Agriculture Victoria announced the change late on Friday, enabling more beehives to re-enter the state to help with almond pollination.

Almond trees in north-west Victoria are about to bloom, and usually hives from across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are used for pollination.

Victoria’s Chief Plant Health Officer, Rosa Crnov, said beekeepers needed to apply for a permit and test their hives before and after moving them to ensure they were free of the destructive pest.

Dr Crnov said the honey bees were low risk because they had been quiet over winter, not gathering honey and not pollinating.

“We also have a level of comfort with them in the fact that they’re registered with Agriculture Victoria so we have ready access to all the records and testing regime on file,” she said.

Last month, a bee parasite called varroa destructor was found in sentinel hives at the Port of Newcastle.

New South Wales authorities have been working to eradicate the mite, which has since been found at 41 premises.

A varroa mite on a honey bee
Varroa mites can weaken bees and make them more susceptible to pathogens.(Supplied: Alex Wild, University of Texas at Austin)

Bee logistics challenging

Dr Crnov said New South Wales hives were still banned from entering Victoria because the risk remained too high.

“We will review the situation as time goes on if there’s any new information. What we’re looking at is New South Wales doing further work to limit the spread of varroa mites,” she said.

The Almond Board of Australia welcomed the repatriation of bee hives that were in New South Wales, but the organisation’s CEO, Tim Jackson, said north-west Victoria was still up to 65,000 hives short for almond pollination.

“There’s going to be some major destocking of hives and using less hives per hectare,” he said.

A man wearing a navy jumper and glasses standing in an orchard.
Tim Jackson says his industry is bearing the heavy cost of the varroa incursion.(ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook)

The Almond Board was hoping to create biosecurity bee bubbles in some parts of Victoria, where certain zones would be able to exclusively use New South Wales hives for pollination.

That proposal, however, has not been approved.

“There’s a lot of concern within the Victorian beekeeping community, and all interstate beekeeping communities outside New South Wales, that the pollination will be a super spreader event,” Mr Jackson said.

He said any changes made in the coming days would be too late.

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