Almond growers have warned that without an end to restrictions on bee movements from New South Wales, the sector could face a shortage of pollinators and potential low yields.

NSW beekeepers have been restricted from moving their hives interstate since 2022 due to the incursion of varroa mite.

Almond growers rely on bringing beehives onto their property to pollinate the crop, and while the pollination season doesn’t begin until August,¬†apiarists need to begin moving their hives in March.

NSW is home to more than 45 per cent of the country’s honey bee population, with hives often transferred to Victoria and South Australia to assist with the pollination of almond trees.

Victoria grows about 60 per cent of Australia’s almonds.

Deidre Jaensch from the Almond Board of Australia said last year’s harvest yield was down 25 per cent and the 2024 season was looking to be another challenging year for almond producers.¬†

Varroa mites can weaken bees and make them more susceptible to pathogens.(Supplied: Alex Wild, University of Texas at Austin)

She said the current restrictions were heavily impacting the industry.

“The varroa mite situation is one that has really challenged our industry. We’re 100 per cent reliant on honey bees to provide pollination services across Australia,” she said.

“It really has severely impacted on our ability to move hives between states and to be able to get enough hives to meet our pollination demands.”

According to Ms Jaensch, almond growers outside NSW will be unable to secure the hives needed, leading to reduced yields for many.

“We’re very uncertain about the pollination season ahead, there is a lot of angst in the industry for both beekeepers and the almond industry,” she said.

“We need to know sooner rather than later so that the beekeepers can get prepared and be ready for pollination.”

Beekeepers worried

The almond pollination season provides significant income for beekeepers, with growers often paying more than $140 per hive.

Steve Fuller believes greater clarity on boarder restrictions on the movement of bees is required.(ABC Rural: Lara Webster)

Beekeeper and president of the Crop Pollination Association of Australia Steve Fuller said apiarists were anxious for more information about whether hives would be able to be moved interstate this season.

“We should be planning this now so that we can make the movement of bees as smooth as possible,” he said.

“Most of the beekeepers have got the farms they’ve been working at for years and when you can’t go to that one, you have to find another.”

Mr Fuller believed beekeepers and the almond industry needed to coordinate to ensure risks were minimised and crops pollinated.

“If it’s a matter of doing a treatment before [hives] come or … extra surveillance … we need to know the plan of action before we even go there,” he said.

The almond industry relies on honeybees for pollination.( ABC News: Else Kennedy )

Shane Hetherington from the NSW Department of Primary Industries has been assisting with the creation of a national plan to address the eventual spread of varroa mite across the country.

Mr Hetherington said there would be some form of restriction for the upcoming season.

“It is almost certain that there will be restrictions on movement across borders,” he said.

“The whole point though is to make sure those restrictions and protocols are as easy to be managed by beekeepers as possible.”

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