New surveillance project to monitor honey bee pests

December 21, 2021

 

Hort Innovation and Plant Health Australia (PHA) are proud to announce a new three-year National Bee Pest Surveillance Program (NBPSP). Funded by Hort Innovation, the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and Grains Producers Australia (GPA), in collaboration with state and territory governments, the program will continue to monitor for honey bee pests that threaten the Australian honey bee industry.

Honey bees are critical for the production of many crops, pollinating around 65 per cent of agricultural and horticultural crops in Australia. Their contribution to the Australian economy through pollination services and products is estimated to be $14.3 billion per annum. The almond and grains industries both rely on honey bees for production, with the almond industry relying exclusively on honey bees for pollination.

“Access to healthy honey bees is critical for our industry in pollinating our crop each year. It is important we do whatever we can to protect our bees and the apiary businesses that support us from exotic pests and diseases,” said Deidre Jaensch, Industry Development Manager at Almond Board of Australia.

GPA Chair and Western Australian grain producer, Barry Large, said the Surveillance Program, was essential to helping protect the profitability and sustainability of Australian grain producers.

“Bee pollination plays a vital part in our $13 billion industry; especially contributing to yield increases for grain producers who grow canola and lupin crops,” he said.

“GPA is proud to support this initiative as part of our national role working with PHA, governments and other stakeholders to enhance the strength of our biosecurity systems and safeguard Australian grain producers.”

Eleven exotic pests that could pose a significant threat to pollination services have been identified. Arguably the most important of these is Varroa mite, a parasitic mite present in Europe, North and South America, Africa, parts of Asia and New Zealand that has contributed to the collapse of honey bee industries in these regions.

Although Australia is free from Varroa and other significant honey bee pests, with strong border biosecurity in place, there is constant pressure on the biosecurity system to maintain this freedom. This is largely a result of the hitch-hiking nature of the European honey bee and exotic honey bee colonies on sea cargo.

Hort Innovation Research and Development Manager Ashley Zamek said we are fortunate that a lot of the pests and diseases that are serious threats to honey bees and in-turn the plant industries that are dependent on pollination, are not in Australia.

Ms Zamek said, however, that is not because of luck. “Australia’s largely healthy honey bee population is the result of intensive, world-leading surveillance efforts combined with the vigilance and support of organisations and government agencies across the country.”

To deal with mounting biosecurity pressures, the NBPSP was first established in 2012 to monitor major ports and surrounding areas. The current program which concludes in 2021, is one of the leading surveillance programs for bee pests and pest bees in the world.

“The newly funded NBPSP, builds on the success of the previous program by continuing to focus on monitoring for bee pests, diseases and pest bees at high-risk ports,” said Dr Sharyn Taylor, National Manager Surveillance and Diagnostics at Plant Health Australia.

PHA will once again coordinate and administrate the program on a national level. The program will run from December 2021 to December 2024, and operate using a risk-based approach, undertaking activities at ports identified to be the highest risk of entry and establishment of bee pests.

“A consistent national approach is key to enhance early detection of target pests and the project has embedded a strong coordination role to capture and monitor program activities, as well as undertake consultation for a sustainable funding mechanism for any future surveillance programs,” said Dr Taylor.

“A risk based approach has been developed to identify the highest risk ports for monitoring under the new NBPSP, this means activities tested and developed in the last program will be deployed nationally to ensure we are using techniques suitable for the main pest risks,” she said.

“This is such an important program that will benefit everyone whether you’re a back yard gardener, a commercial grower or someone who just loves eating Australian grown food – we all benefit from keeping our bees safe,” said Ms Jaensch.