The humble honey bee is responsible for much more than the sweet, sticky, golden drizzle on your toast – in fact, the industry contributes an estimated $14.2 billion annually to the Australian economy.
Today is World Bee Day, as first designated by the United Nations in late 2017, to highlight the importance of bees as pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development.
Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) Chair, Trevor Weatherhead, said beekeepers across the nation were urging consumers to better understand the invaluable role bees play in producing what the world eats.
“It is estimated that one in three mouthfuls of food we eat relies on honey bees for pollination,”.
“If bees became extinct, we would still be able to eat items that do not need them for pollination, such as wheat, rice, oats and potatoes, but our diets would have very little variation because many of the delicious and nutritious foods we consume, foods which are particularly important to our health, would no longer be available.
“There is an aim to have $100 billion worth of farm gate output produced in Australia by 2030 and our bees will have an important role to play in achieving that target.”
One-third of the food that ends up on our plates is dependent on honey bee pollination and 35 agricultural and horticultural industries rely on services provided by commercial beekeepers.
Bees help produce a diverse range of food. For example:
- 140 bees are needed to produce one kilogram of macadamias
- 69 bees help produce one kilogram of almonds
- 18 bees are required to pollinate one kilogram of avocados
- Five bees help grow one kilogram of pumpkin
- Two bees are needed for one kilogram of watermelon.
Honey bees also contribute to the meat we eat, with some livestock feed crops dependent on pollination.
However, the 2019/2020 summer bushfires took a heavy toll on the honey bee in Australia, destroying an estimated 15.6 million hectares of native forest, meaning critical nectar and pollen sources for honey bee colonies were lost.
Mr Weatherhead said the resilience and skill of Australian beekeepers meant the nation’s pollination needs were still met, even at this most challenging time.
“It was testament to the ability of our beekeepers they were able to bring their hives back to a strength that was suitable for pollination,” he said.“However, we should also be mindful that areas such as the south coast and north coast of New South Wales, which are typically used by beekeepers to support their beehives, were badly burnt out and this will mean beekeepers will need to travel much further distances than normal to find areas to locate their hives.”
Recent floods have also impacted the industry, with many hives either washed away or inundated with water.
Mr Weatherhead said these challenges gave added weight to World Bee Day in 2021 and the need for the broader community to appreciate the role bees play in the lives of all Australians.
“We believe that healthy bees equal healthy people and this World Bee Day, we ask Australians to try to identify the food they’re eating that has been pollinated by bees.
“We’re also asking everyone to help protect the welfare of our bee population and that home gardeners and farmers take great care with pesticides which could inadvertently harm bees.
“There’s never been a better time to thank a bee for some of the food that’s on your plate.”