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R&D funding announced to support bushfire affected beekeepers

5 July 2021

The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC) has welcomed the announcement of a $600,000 Federal Government grant to help the sector recover from the devastating summer bushfires of 2019/2020.

Announced by Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud, the investment will be managed by rural research and development corporation AgriFutures Australia and will fund research to help industry rebuild after what was a destructive and difficult event.

This work will include communicating best practice supplementary feeding to beekeepers and exploration of sophisticated hive management technology, which can be used after bushfires.

AHBIC Chair, Trevor Weatherhead, said the grant would be warmly welcomed by beekeepers as an investment in their industry’s recovery after losing millions of dollars at the hands of the fires.

“The summer bushfires took a heavy toll on the Australian honey bee industry, destroying more than 15 million hectares of native forest, burning more than 12,000 hives and weakening around 100,000 hives due to smoke,”.

“That meant critical nectar and pollen sources for honey bee colonies were lost and many areas that would be typically used by beekeepers to support their hives were burnt out, which will take many years to recover.”

The Bushfire Recovery Plan developed by AHBIC, in partnership with AgriFutures Australia, showed Australian honey production had fallen since the fires, given the significant loss of beehives across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

It is estimated Australia’s economy could lose $147 million, as a result of the bushfires impacting honey and hive production and there have also been deep concerns that beekeepers could leave the industry.

“We have sadly heard from some people they are contemplating leaving their profession as a result of the bushfires, but we hope this new Federal Government help will encourage beekeepers to continue to rebuild and provide them with new ways to care for their bees,” Mr Weatherhead said.

“Given honey bees help to provide one in three of the mouthfuls of food consumed in this nation we simply cannot afford for our valued beekeepers to exit the industry.”

There has been long-running pressure on beekeeping businesses given the prolonged and severe drought which gripped much of Australia prior to the fires.

Mr Weatherhead said in the aftermath of such extreme weather, stress-related health issues had struck many beekeepers.

“These unavoidable weather events have been highly stressful for the people who keep our industry going and provide essential honey to consumers and pollination to Australian crops,” he said.

“It has been a testament to the strength and skill of many of our beekeepers, that they have been able to bring their hives back to health to continue providing these essential goods and services.

“However, the mental health impacts must not be dismissed. We saw beekeepers physically fighting fires as they tried to save their homes and honey bees and this had a compounding impact on people’s mental wellbeing given the consecutive years of drought and flood before this.”

Consumers will also benefit from the investment in the honey bee industry, which contributes an estimated $150 million annually to the Australian economy through honey production, while the pollination of crops yielding healthy and nutritious food including avocadoes, almonds, macadamias, pumpkin, watermelon and apples, adds $14.2 billion annually.