Varroa mite detected in Coffs Harbor blueberry orchard in 43rd case since outbreak began

Beekeepers on the NSW Mid North Coast are the last to prepare to destroy their hives after the discovery of Varroa mite in hives on a blueberry farm.

The deadly bee parasite has been discovered in Nana Glen, 25 kilometers inland from Coffs Harbour, where a 10 km extermination zone has been established.

It was the 43rd discovery since a first case last month in Newcastle harbour.

“I’m shocked. I’m devastated,” said beekeeper Alan Elks.

Mr Elks’ family has kept bees in the area for generations and their hives are located just a few miles from the detection site, which puts them within the eradication zone.

Mr Elks said he should be aware of the discovery on his doorstep by a fellow beekeeper.

Beekeeper Alan Elks is devastated, his hives in the red emergency zone are destroyed.(Delivered)

“A bee farmer called us on the bee telegraph and said, ‘Mate, you are in the red zone of Varroa,'” he said.

“We haven’t heard anything from the DPI, nothing at all.

In a statement, a DPI spokesperson said 13,000 registered commercial and recreational beekeepers across the state had been notified of the new detection at 7 p.m. Monday night.

“DPI has also communicated the detection through the DPI website, on social media and through national distribution to media outlets,” the statement said.

A command post is being set up at the Primary Industries Institute in Grafton.

‘It’s like losing half your family’

NSW Agriculture Secretary Dugald Saunders said the hives had been moved earlier this year, ahead of the introduction of the nationwide bee movement pause.

“The good news is that so far we can still draw a direct line between each individual case, meaning we have the situation well under control,” Saunders said.

A man holds a bee with a small brown Varroa mite attached to it.
Varroa mite has now been found on the coast of Coffs Harbor.(Delivered)

Mr Elks says he was not confident that the outbreak could be contained and that he was emotional at the prospect of losing his bees.

‘You lose your bees, it’s like losing half your family. No money will ever make up for the bees,’ he said.

NSW Apiarists Association president Steve Fuller said the outbreak was the “last” the industry needed in hopes of keeping the plague under control.

He estimated that about 15 beekeepers in the area would be affected.

“These bees can be traced back to a beekeeper in Newcastle who said he brought them out around April this year,” said Mr Fuller.

“So we know it’s a direct trace to Newcastle.”

Mr Fuller said contact tracing only worked if beekeepers were honest.

“If everyone was honest and fair with DPI in the beginning and told them where their bees were and where they moved things, we would have known this weeks ago,” he said.

A man in a high-vis shirt squats next to a beehive.
The president of the NSW Apiarists’ Association, Steve Fuller, will have 200 of his own hives in the red zone destroyed.(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Concerns about impact on agriculture

Fuller has 1,200 hives in the emergency zones and expects the 200 in the red zone to be destroyed in the coming days.

“It’s the worst-case scenario,” he said.

“It’s the most central place you could do it for the Coffs Coast.

“It takes up almost 80 to 90 percent of the berry production in this area, so it’s locked us all in. Everything is shut down now.”

Mr Saunders said contact tracing and monitoring would be conducted in the Coffs Harbor region to minimize further risk.

The impact on the local agricultural sector is now the next concern, with about 5,000 hives needed to pollinate blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, avocados and macadamias in the region until the end of September.

Berries Australia executive officer Rachel Mackenzie said the rubus industry is 100 percent dependent on pollination.

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