Varroa spread takes heavy toll

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 10:13 27/12/2012

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Some South Island beekeepers with hives freshly exposed to varroa mites have lost up to 25 per cent of their bees.

They have been forced to replenish their hives with new bees by putting in a man- grafted queen cell in the top box of a non-infected colony and shifting it across to restore a full population.

Varroa has continued its run to as far south as Invercargill now, with the few remaining pockets in the South Island expected to be infected by autumn.

Federated Farmers bees chairman John Hartnell said varroa had virtually spread across the country.

"The challenge this year is the beekeepers dealing with it for the first time knew they had it in autumn and put in their first treatment, but were a bit late and subsequently they paid the price with some bee losses. Some apiarists have had quite high losses up to 25 per cent so there is a lot of catching up to replenish these hives in time for the honey crop."

The weather was unkind to queen mating in the first round, but most beekeepers have caught up in the second round early this spring. Varroa entered New Zealand in 2000 and the Government estimates it will cost the economy between $400 and $900 million over 35 years.

Treatment costs beekeepers about $25 a hive for spring and autumn treatments, with another $25 costs for labour and fuel to reach hives.

Hartnell said beekeepers were resigned to treating hives for varroa in their lifetime.

"It's here to stay and unless they come up with a magic silver bullet we will face varroa every year for eternity."

He said beekeepers were only grateful they did not have to deal with European foulbrood requiring antibiotics.

Beekeepers need to get to a surplus honey position and this can be difficult for those dealing with a late mating and early honey flow.

Honey production has been late in many parts of Canterbury and, around lighter country in Twizel, there are signs of honey flows starting to dry off as the clover gets burnt off by the heat and lack of moisture.

Hartnell said many Canterbury beekeepers only had half a box full of honey by mid- December as a result of lower ground temperatures.

For the nectar to flow ground temperatures need to be at about 18 degrees Celsius. He said honey supplies were still adequate, with stores remaining from last year.

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