BeeAware how to boost crop yields with honey bee pollination

July 11, 2014

A new website launched this week aims to help farmers boost productivity of crops they grow by optimising honey bee pollination.

BeeAware is the latest honey bee biosecurity initiative developed by Plant Health Australia (PHA), the coordinator of the industry-government plant biosecurity partnership in Australia.  The site was launched by PHA Chairman, Dr Tony Gregson, at the Victorian Apiarist Association Conference in Melbourne on 8 July.

According to Rod Turner, PHA’s Risk Management Manager, BeeAware is a comprehensive resource with a dual purpose. It helps beekeepers to keep hives healthy and helps farmers to understand the yield benefits that pollination by honey bees can bring.

Some, but not all, crops depend on pollination to get good yields of fruit or seeds.

“The importance of pollination is often poorly understood. Pollen can be moved by various means, including wind, birds and other insects.  But honey bees are the most important insect pollinator for a range of cultivated agricultural and horticultural crops,” said Mr Turner.

“At the BeeAware website, farmers can find out how to boost yields by placing hives of honey bees near production areas. Crops that see the largest benefits include almonds, cherries, avocados, melons blueberries, some vegetables, legumes, oilseeds, apples and macadamias.”

Mr Turner said that wild bees pollinate a lot of crops at the moment, but should an exotic pest such as varroa mite gets through border controls and become established in Australia, their numbers would drop and with it, crop yields.

Mr Turner said: “Our strong biosecurity system has so far protected us from many of the pests of bees that have hit hives hard overseas. But pollination experts agree that if one of these pests should make into the country, farmers will increasingly need to use commercial honey bee pollination services.”

Existing pests like small hive beetle, which are uncontrolled in wild bee populations, already reduce pollination of crops in some areas.  The site includes information on how beekeepers can manage pests to keep apiaries healthy.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, welcomed the new site saying that it supports two of the themes identified in a statement of research and development priorities for honey bee and cropping industries that he released in February.

The site received an enthusiastic response at the conference. It was developed by a partnership between the Australian Government, the honey bee industry and pollinator-reliant industries through the Pollination Program which is managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Horticulture Australia Limited.

Visit the BeeAware website at www.beeaware.org.au