Queens saved as 20 million bees destroyed

·2-min read

Australia's national honey bee genetics program has suffered a significant set back after it was forced to destroy around 20 million bees in the Hunter region of NSW, due to the threat from the varroa mite.

While around 50 queen bees in the national Plan Bee project were preserved, some 342 hives each containing around 60,000 bees have been destroyed in the past fortnight.

"It's a significant impact to the project but the silver lining is that we will be able to work with the queen breeding sector around the nation and ramp up data collection and selection outcomes," Elizabeth Frost from the NSW department of primary industries and Plan Bee project said.

While the hives at Tocal Agricultural College near Newcastle, were found to be free of the deadly mite, they had to be euthanised because they fell in one of the varroa eradication zones.

Under a permit system, developed to protect bees with high genetic value, 50 queen bees were found homes elsewhere in NSW.

"It only applies to Queen breeders of which there are very few in the red (eradication) zone, so that's a beekeeper that produces queen bees for sale. In Australia there's a very small Queen breeding sector," Ms Frost told AAP.

The varroa mite was first detected near the port of Newcastle in June and an emergency order was introduced in NSW to try and prevent the spread of the deadly mite.

Ms Frost said the honey bee genetics project which has been running since February 2020 will continue but given the hives at Tocal contained the largest bee population and the reference group, the project has been "significantly impacted."

"Whilst this is a disappointing setback, the program will continue and the genetic and production data we have generated so far lives on," she said.

She said it's now more important than ever for bee breeders to support the national genetics program by collecting data on their own genetic lines and submitting that data to the Plan Bee project.

"The real strength of this national program comes from the diversity and volume of data we generate."