Bees' immunity weakened by varroa mite

02:31, Jun 07 2013

New Zealand's bee industry has learnt to live with the varroa mite but has been left vulnerable to their viruses, Federated Farmers bees industry group chairman John Hartnell said.

In the 13 years since varroa had been in New Zealand, it had halved the number of working hives, with feral and wild hives being worst affected, he said.

The cost of treatment for each hive was about $50 a year and there were still considerable losses. Some West Coast beekeepers were reporting 15 per cent losses.

Biosecurity was more important than ever as varroa had left bees with weakened immunity.

"We need the help of all New Zealanders to ensure we keep New Zealand free of bee products and honey products from overseas. They are capable of exporting viruses and bacteria that we don't have and we don't want."

Mr Hartnell is in Queenstown with more than 100 commercial beekeepers for the annual Federated Farmers Bees conference.

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He said there were about 435,000 hives in New Zealand and the industry contributed about $120 million per annum to exports.

It also directly contributed to about $5 billion of New Zealand's gross domestic product through intensive pollination of horticultural crops, grass, land and pasture. Pollination of kiwifruit, pipfruit, stonefruit and squash was a massive industry. The kiwifruit industry alone accounted for more than 65,000 hives.

In the past 15 years it had also been involved in a rapidly growing small seed export industry - including seeds for carrots, onions, brassica and beets, with about 30,000 hives.

Another challenge facing the industry was the removal of traditional foraging sources for bees such as gorse, broom and willow.

"Everyone considers them a pest but they're a critical part of beekeeping management."

The organisation had just received approval for a second three- year programme called Trees for Bees and were encouraging farmers to look at alternative plantings including eucalyptus and strong, straight willows.

The Southland Times