Acting Chair – Jon Lockwood
The National Management Group (NMG) confirmed at its meeting on 19 September 2023 that eradication of Varroa destructor is no longer feasible based on technical grounds, following advice from the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP), and has now embarked on Response Plan Version 4 draft to include a transition to management phase.
AHBIC would like to acknowledge the sacrifices that beekeepers have made in the eradication effort. Whether you lost hives, were subject to a surveillance zone, lost sales on nucleus hives or queens or lost honey production and pollination income due to boarder or zone restrictions, the eradication process seemed at times, unkind. At the least, the effort to eradicate even if unsuccessful, allowed the spread to be slowed, buying critical time to prepare and we can tell future generations we gave it our best.
Reality has set in, it is predicted Varroa will be present across New South Wales, and eventually into Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia within the next three years. Westen Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory may have several more years due to natural isolation. Managing Varroa will not be easy by any means. Treatment costs, additional labour, sacrificing honey flows to treat and additional winter losses will all add to the beekeeping business bottom line.
No doubt a lot of beekeepers will need to make some serious decisions, such as “am I going to stay in beekeeping and manage varroa or is it best to move on?” Perhaps reducing numbers is best for your individual circumstances. After the initial Varroa wave moves through the landscape there will be opportunity for some to prosper. The reduction of feral colonies may over time increase managed honey production and may open new opportunities for pollination services. Every other country in the world can manage Varroa, so can Australia.
Transition to management
AHBIC are actively involved in negotiating the best possible package for the beekeeping industry and are highlighting the need for a National role out of Transition to Management activities. Education and training are among the priority, to give beekeepers knowledge to begin to handle Varroa. In the meantime, educating yourself is advantageous but we must be cautious as a lot of advice may not be appropriate in an Australian context.
AHBIC continue to lobby for acaricides for treatment to be readily available. AHBIC strongly believe there will not be any issues with availability of treatments, there is no need to panic. All beekeepers must be doing washes (good beekeepers will be) to monitor for mites, if varroa is detected it must be reported to your jurisdiction. Call the Plant Pest Hotline 1800 084 881 to help monitor the spread. It is important to note that if Varroa is detected it may not be necessary to treat until it has met the economical threshold to treat.
There is no doubt there are rough times ahead. The beekeeping community must gather around each other and stick together. Beekeeping can be quite lonely; it is important to refer to your support networks. Talk to each other, attend local branch meetings, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Perhaps you can remember when other pests or diseases, even COVID came upon us, it was very daunting at the time but now is the normal.
In a few years’ time Varroa will be the new way of life, beekeepers will prevail.