Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Bees going hungry in hot summer

Some beekeepers are feeding their bees sugar water to keep them alive.

LAURA GRIFFIN February 26, 2013 4:04am

Bees busy at work in happier times.

Bees across Victoria are producing so little honey that some beekeepers have to feed hives sugar syrup to keep them alive, Victorian Apiarists’ Association vice-president Kevin MacGibbon said.

He said this alarming situation had ramifications for bee survival, honey production and crop pollination.

Mr MacGibbon has fed sugar syrup to the smaller of his 200 beehives, that are mainly in forests across north-east Victoria.

‘‘I’ve only had to feed syrup to keep bees alive one other season, in the late 1970s,’’ the Nalinga-based beekeeper said.

He said some small hives were not populous enough and did not have enough food to enable them to collect water to hydrate the hive, which was vital for maintaining the 34°C required for young bees to pupate.

The third generation beekeeper said the state’s hot, dry weather meant there were not enough flowering plants to support the bees.

‘‘Normally, the season runs from September through to mid-April. There was a little flush from canola early this season and since then we have had virtually no honey production, until last week,’’ Mr MacGibbon said.

‘‘It’s been pretty desperate for the last six to eight weeks statewide.

‘‘There was a bit of honey produced in south-west Victoria and up in the north-west when the temperatures weren’t too hot. Bees were dying when it was very hot.’’

Mr MacGibbon said the sluggish start to the season meant beekeepers had only six weeks to see bees store enough honey for them to survive winter and maybe produce a surplus.

‘‘Low honey production will probably affect prices.’’

He said that could increase pressure for supermarkets to import ‘‘poor quality products from some Asian countries’’.

He said there were also serious implications for crops reliant on bees for pollination.

‘‘Australian honey production has a value of about $90million/year and Australia-wide, bees perform pollination of food crops to the value of about $4 to $6billion, mostly unpaid.’’

Mr MacGibbon gave the example of about 110000 hives being required for almond pollination in Victoria’s north-west during August. Almonds are 100 per cent reliant on honey bees for pollination.

‘‘If there are no bees, there will be no nuts.’’

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