South Island beekeepers got a ‘conference’ of their own on May 21, when around 100 people gathered at Lincoln University to hear experts present on a range of topics in one of the lecture theatres for Apiculture New Zealand’s (ApiNZ) Canterbury Hub’s Beekeeper’s Day Out. Out in the foyer the conversations continued too, alongside about a dozen trade displays.
While the struggles of the honey industry and plans to overcome them dominated conversations between beekeepers, and were never far from being brought up in the group discussions, there were a broad range of topics covered. Here are some of the key takeaways:
“If you are not profitable at the start, you shouldn’t be thinking about the environment at the end” said James Malcolm, managing director of Canterbury business Natural New Zealand Honey, on the topic of sustainability. “Business profitability is business sustainability”. With that in mind, and the current state of the industry, he pointed out that just finding profitability is the biggest issue facing beekeepers.
Frans Laas confirmed he and former Betta Bees employee Rob Waddell have successfully tendered to take over the Otago breeding programme. Laas gave a brief presentation on queen bee breeding with a few pearls of wisdom: “Good genetics will not overcome poor management practices”, “90% of the breeding is in the feeding” and the reassurance that “Betta Bees is still here and hopefully will be for a very long time”. (Look out for more on Betta Bees’ new ownership and management plan in next month’s Advocate)
Esteemed entomologist Dr Phil Lester reported on Victoria University of Wellington’s exciting work alongside global researchers Greenlight Bioscience to create a hive treatment for varroa that harnesses gene silencing to not kill mites, but disrupt their reproduction. They have been conducting small scale trials on hives in Mid Canterbury and Manawatu which deliver double-stranded RNA to honey bees via sugar syrup, which result in the targeted gene silencing. “Where are we at?” Lester posed … “These treatments seem to be working and in the USA they are working even better. There is real opportunity, but we will need to undergo more large-scale trials. There is a lot of work to do.”
Christchurch Hobbyist Bee Club president Jo Winter and vice president Lindsay Moir provided an overview of the club and happily reported that they are “back in full force” post-covid and member interest never waned.
Josh Komen gave an emotional and inspiring presentation regarding his harrowing 10-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia. In a room full of beekeepers grappling with the mental challenges of trying to survive through a huge downturn in their industry, Komen’s words helped put challenges in perspective as he advised “hold on to hope and look for opportunities – good things come to those who wait”.
Time saver… Trees for Bees botanist Linda Newstrom-Lloyd unveiled what could be a very useful online tool, ‘The Bee Plant Finder’. After 14 years of yeoman’s work for the industry, Trees for Bees has developed a catalogue of 222 listed plant species valuable to bees. Now, the online finder tool allows users to filter a wide range of plant features to easily generate a list of appropriate species for their needs and conditions.
ApiNZ policy analyst Phil Edmonds tipped that the industry body was not far away from unveiling the findings of their Honey Industry Strategy, which began in April 2022. Edmonds stated that the strategy is required to help obtain further funding for apiculture from Government. “Government want to hear one voice and a consensual voice, so that their funds are well spent.”
The American foulbrood (AFB) Management Agency’s Clifton King delivered a presentation designed to cut through to beekeepers. The national compliance manager stated that beekeepers shouldn’t be having conversations about who was a “good guy or bad guy” but instead “should be talking about who is eliminating AFB as per their DECA (Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement) and who isn’t”. He encouraged DECA holders to re-familiarise themselves with their agreement, fully meet their obligations and thus strive to attain elimination of AFB.
Southern operations manager for the Agency, Marco Gonzalez gave a lively update on efforts across Canterbury to lower the incidence of AFB in several hotspots, where improvements have seemingly been made. Regarding non-compliance, “some beekeepers, we are happy when they leave the industry” he pointed out.
Speaking of elimination, that continues to be the goal of Australian beekeepers in their varroa incursion response and New South Wales response co-ordinator Chris Anderson gave a succinct update on progress. Beekeepers are required to regularly test for mites and, if found, destroy hives. Wild colonies are being poisoned using bait stations. They are extreme measures, but should varroa take hold and all-but eliminate wild honey bee colonies such as has occurred in New Zealand, then Australia would face a huge challenge to pollinate crops as, without them, there is concern that Australia simply don’t have enough managed colonies to fill the gap.
Almost all colonies in Australia don’t get a brood break the NSW beekeeper said, thus varroa can build up in the winter months, adding to the challenge.
Compensation for Australian beekeepers required to destroy hives is coming via a 80%-20% funding from central government and the apiculture industry.
Danielle Kok of the University of Canterbury gave an update on the Active Bacteriophages for American FoulBrood Eradication (ABAtE) project, where they have progressed to making four different cocktails of phages which are now being tested for efficacy in preventing AFB infection in beehives. While they are hopeful it will be effective on most AFB in New Zealand, one pesky strain of AFB found in Otago remains without a phage to act as its foe in the cocktail mix. Funding dependent, the research will continue.
Rae Butler of Bee Smart Breeding in Mid Canterbury spoke to her work in developing a line of varroa sensitive hygiene (VSH) bees and improve the genetics of New Zealand’s bee stocks. “It is you as beekeepers who hold the key,” Butler said as she encouraged apiarists to make the trait a priority. “You hold the genetic stock to make VSH a greater reality”.
Karin Kos of ApiNZ provided an invite to attend the national beekeeping conference in Rotorua June 29-30. While travel costs might make that a trip too far for many of those who were in attendance, the Canterbury Hub of the industry body should be commended for making sure a successful Day Out was provided closer to home for the beekeepers of the Mainland.