Backyard beekeeping raises warning against honey industry varroa mite

Backyard beekeeping is booming, but with the world’s worst bee parasite on our doorstep, can well-meaning enthusiasts bring down Queensland’s honey industry?

Varroa mite, a parasite that spreads viruses that cripple bees’ ability to fly, gather food or emerge from their cells to be born, was discovered in New South Wales in June and thousands of hives have since been destroyed as authorities rush to try to eradicate it.

It has created enormous challenges for commercial beekeeping, which is critical to crop pollination across Australia, as beekeepers faced restrictions on movement and loss of income and hives in response.

But while the number of commercial beekeepers in Queensland has been static, the number of hobby beekeepers has soared.

Added to this are different levels of skill, understanding and compliance with regulations designed to protect the wider industry from pests and diseases.

A Varroa mite feeds on a honey bee.(Provided: Alex Wild, University of Texas at Austin)

Are you registered?

Secretary of State Jo Martin of the Queensland Beekeepers Association hoped the popularity of backyard beekeeping would not backfire on the industry.

“The number and increase of recreational beekeepers in urban and regional areas is something we never expected,” said Ms Martin.

The couple smiles at the camera with plastic jars filled with honey.
The Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Mark Furner, and Jo Martin, the Secretary of the Queensland Beekeepers’ Association.(Supplied: Queensland Beekeepers’ Association)

Of the more than 9,000 registered beekeepers in Queensland, only 300 are commercial.

Ms Martin said it is critical that urban and recreational beekeepers have registered with Biosecurity Queensland so that they can be contacted, advised and involved in response in the event of an outbreak.

“The Varroa mite carries many of the really devastating diseases that can cause catastrophic deaths in honeybee colonies and collectively those diseases will be very difficult to control,” Ms Martin said.

“Maybe all of us [need to] make a bit of a pledge right now to make ourselves all responsible.

“We need all beekeepers to be registered and do their surveillance checks, do the alcohol washes and report their findings so that we are as best prepared as possible to deal with any mites here in Queensland.”

A man in protective clothing inspects a beehive.
All hives must be registered and regularly monitored for biosecurity purposes.(ABC Hobart: Joel Rheinberger)

Check your hives

The Queensland Government is instructing beekeepers to check their hives and familiarize themselves with identifying Varroa mite.

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