Bee numbers up as threat lessens

Commercial bee numbers are on the rise in spite of the varroa mite disease which has plundered wild bee stocks.

Bees in managed hives were hit hard by varroa, but hive treatment has allowed them to withstand the disease and their numbers have grown as demand for honey production and pollinating crops has increased.

Registered beehives are up about 7 per cent to 450,000 from last year and rising since 2005 along with increasing numbers of registered beekeepers.

Federated Farmers North Canterbury chairman Barry Hantz said good prices for manuka honey had encouraged beekeepers to put in more hives, particularly in the North Island.

"There are more beekeepers getting into the industry to produce manuka honey and guys are increasing hive numbers to get more. In Mid-Canterbury there is the small seed pollination and we grow up to 70 per cent of carrot seed and 50 per cent of radish seed and they need pollinating."

Midlands Seed is a carrot seed grower and is among beekeepers increasing hive numbers to pollinate crops.

Hantz said his family business, Hantz Honey at Lakeside, was also putting in more hives to meet pollination demand.

"This year there are another 100 hectares of carrot seed being grown for the year. Eight hives to the hectare is the stocking rate and that's another factor in increasing hive numbers."

He said the pollination business was good for hive growth, but this was not being matched by honey production as there was only so much nectar from crops to provide feed for bees to make honey.

The honey crop was estimated at about 10,300 tonnes for 2011-12, up 10 per cent on the year before.

Another factor contributing to the increase in hives is that beekeepers appear to have improved their hive registration. They are required to send the information to the state-owned food safety and biosecurity organisation Assure Quality. More beekeepers have registered as a result and were filing paperwork for hive sites. Aerial inspections of hives were encouraging beekeepers to keep more accurate records.

Hantz said newcomers needed to do their homework about hive health and be aware that diseases could spread to hives without good beekeeping.

He said wild bee numbers had been virtually wiped out by varroa and that meant more nectar for commercial hives.

The rise of dairying has reduced pollen sources in Canterbury and beekeepers were providing supplementary feeding of "protein paddies" for the bees to feed their eggs, until the clover flowering came through. However, natural protein through pollen is believed by scientists overseas to be the best deterrent for safeguarding bees against diseases such as colony collapse disorder, a problem in the United States.

The Press