‘Not perfect’ plan formed to slow bee parasite’s spread across Australia

‘Not perfect’ plan formed to slow bee parasite’s spread across Australia

Specialist staff will be dispatched around Australia to slow the spread of the destructive varroa mite across the bee industry.

The federal government’s National Management Group has unanimously endorsed a Transition to Management Plan, under which response costs will be capped at $100 million, revised down from a $136 million limit.

The revised response plan, developed by the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests, comes nearly five months after Australia gave up on efforts to eradicate the bee parasite on September 19, 2023.  

Australian Honey Bee Industry Council chief executive Danny Le Feuvre said the plan had been a long time in the making.

“It’s been quite a big negotiation, it’s got a lot of parties involved with a lot of needs and wants, and a lot of people wanting to spend as little as possible now that we were unable to eradicate as well,” he said.

“It’s still not a perfect plan but we were able to get agreement, which is great.”

He said the 24-month plan was focused on education and extension to ensure beekeepers could understand and manage the pest.

“We want to make sure that the beekeepers are comfortable in being able to do the surveillance to find it and comfortable in what management options they need to deploy, and how can they monitor and keep continual vigil looking out for those pests,” he said.

Danny Le Feuvre says land owners need to learn the signs of varroa mite infestation.(Supplied: Australian Honey Bee Industry Council)

Long delay

NSW Department of Primary Industry acting chief plant protection officer Shane Hetherington said it was the best plan they could develop but it needed time to finalise.

“It is an extremely important piece of work in that it will provide the information and the capacity for beekeepers to move forward to manage varroa as it becomes endemic in Australia,” he said.

He said 26 different groups needed to agree on the way forward including bee keepers, almond, apple and melon growers, and other horticultural crops dependent on pollination services.

The plan will include 100 full-day workshops for beekeepers across the country, as well as 32 extension officers to support the education campaign.

“At the end of the day about 70 per cent of the resources that sit within the plan are devoted towards providing training and extension for beekeepers,” he said.

The varroa development officers will be in every jurisdiction across Australia and they will work one on one with those beekeepers.

Mr Le Feuvre said the officers would help them develop their management plans, understand the pest and look at what might best suit them in terms of treatment in their areas.

He said the officers would be particularly important in states that didn’t yet have varroa.

“[It will] help support those beekeepers set up some industry surveillance programs where we can have a network of sentinel hives looking for that early detection, so that our beekeepers can be best prepared for when it gets to their areas,” he said.

He said a pollination industry co-ordinator would also be appointed to enable the flow of information between the honey bee and pollination dependent industries. 

Varroa mite can weaken bees and kill them if left untreated.(Supplied: Alex Wild, UT Austin)

Slow spread

Dr Hetherington said the eradication campaign, which ultimately failed, helped to slow the spread of varroa.

“That slowing down has given us the time we need to train industries to get ready for it and made sure some of those businesses haven’t gone out the door in that time,” he said. 

“We want to get beekeepers and pollination-dependent industries to a point where they’re able to manage this serious pest with minimal government intervention.” 

He said the commercial availability of miticide strips had helped to slow the spread of the pest to inland NSW.

Shane Hetherington says the response plan will end in two years and industry must then manage varroa itself.(Supplied: NSW DPI)

He said there were plans for the creation of a national database that would take information from beekeepers to help track the spread of varroa. 

He said the voluntary monitoring system could feed its data into something that was maintained by the likes of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council.

“We’re exploring options for that as part of the plan,” he said.

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