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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Reducing the AFB Risk of Abandoned Hives – the Responsibility of All Beekeepers

Just like every apiarist has their own methods of keeping bees and business practices, it seems there are just as many methods for ceasing their beekeeping operations when the time comes – and that time is coming for an increasing amount. If done wrong though, their hives can pose a serious disease risk to fellow beekeepers. We check in with the American Foulbrood (AFB) Management Agency’s two ‘Authorised Person 1s’ (AP1), Dwayne Hill in the north and Marco Gonzalez in the south, to find out what they have seen in the last year and get some advice on how to best wind-up beekeeping operations.

The increase in abandoned apiaries has been more noticeable in the last six months, say both AP1s, and they expect there to be even more beehives walked away from in the coming year. However, they needn’t all pose a disease risk, and both beekeepers going out of business and those who remain have an important role to play.

Grass or bush engulfing beehives – a sign they have been abandoned by the beekeeper. It’s becoming an increasingly regular occurrence around New Zealand and with it comes a disease risk for remaining managed hives.

“We need beekeepers who are still in the area to inform us, at the earliest possible moment, that they have noticed hives that have been abandoned, so that we can inspect and clear that threat of AFB,” Hill says.

“The worst thing we are seeing in the north is, people who are not even packing their gear up. Just losing interest and walking off apiaries. It is a case of other beekeepers being vigilant and making us aware that those hives are no longer being cared for.”

Of course, if those beekeepers who no longer plan to tend to their hives gave notice to the Agency first, that would be the easiest solution. Hill implores them to do so, not just for the good of those who remain, but themselves too.

“If they walk away without deregistering, then the Management Agency will charge them for the levy based on the recorded number of colonies owned as at 31 March.”

While the Agency would prefer beekeepers to notify them, in most cases it is routine apiary inspections by the Agency AP2s that uncovers abandoned apiaries, with grass high about the hives, hives all dead out, and mice and wasp infestations.

There has been more abandonment of apiaries in the North Island than the South, while the Northland region has seen by far the most beekeepers walking away from hives, the AP1s report.

Not all abandoned apiaries afford an immediate AFB risk though and Gonzalez points out that, if the beekeeper was doing a good job of managing AFB, then the risk is low initially. However, if dead hives are not blocked up, they can easily be repopulated by swarming bees which may spread AFB.

“Sometimes a beekeeper with no AFB can go out of business and the hives die, but their neighbours have AFB. If a swarm from an AFB hive inhabits those abandoned hives, then there is a risk. So, it is very important that, whenever a beekeeper has a dead out, they block the hive to prevent any honey being robbed or swarms repopulating that dead out,” Gonzalez explains.

The best way of blocking a hive is to place the hive mat on the base with the hive back together on top of that. Ideally though all hiveware would be removed from apiaries and then deregistered, Gonzalez points out.

AFB Management Agency AP1 Dwayne Hill is asking all beekeepers to report any suspected abandoned apiaries so that the Agency can take appropriate action.

“That way if there is any AFB in that gear it gets robbed from one central location, instead of spreading it across multiple locations.”

While complete abandonment of hives is the most severe repercussion of beekeepers struggling financially due to lowered honey values, management practices impacted by economic woes, and used in hives that remain, can also facilitate spread of AFB.

“Perhaps a larger risk than abandoned apiaries is beekeepers who can’t afford sugar and are feeding their bees honey. That can result in problems for a range of reasons,” Gonzalez explains.

“For example, a beekeeper who can’t afford to get his honey extracted and leaves the boxes on top of the hives would seem fine, but it makes you lazy. They can’t be bothered to carry out a brood inspection if there are four boxes of honey on top. They don’t inspect for AFB, or monitor their mites. Then you get these bombs of robbing and there is plenty of honey to rob. Therefore, one case of AFB can turn into multiple.

“Another example, are the beekeepers who can’t afford extraction so they go around all their beehives and harvest one frame of capped honey per hive, with no checking for AFB, no traceability, and then in the autumn or early spring the frames are fed back to hives and you get multiple cases of AFB showing, all at the same level of infection. But the beekeeper has no traceability, no clue where it has come from.”

The Agency are there to help beekeepers, even those who wish to cease their operations and exit the industry, but people should do so responsibly, Hill reinforces.

“If you are going to give up beekeeping, please pack up your gear and deregister your apiaries.”

The AFB management agency can be contacted via email or by phoning 0800 AFB PMP (0800 232 767).

Marco and Dwayne’s Advice to Exiting Beekeepers

  • Remove dead out hives from apiaries and deregister the sites.

  • If removal is not attainable, securely block all dead out hives and notify the Agency.

  • All beekeepers should notify the Agency if they suspect an apiary is abandoned.

  • Ensure traceability to source if you plan to use feed honey across your operation.

  • Be wary of leaving large stacks of honey on hives as it restricts access to brood inspection.


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