Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Bee Aware how to boost crop yields with honey bee pollination

July 30, 2014
Bees on avocado flowers

More than 20 pollen grains need to be deposited on the stigma of an avocado flower before it will produce a fruit. Two to ten hives per hectare is recommended for avocado orchards. Photo: Sam Malfroy, PHA

Bee Aware is a recently launched website that is a comprehensive resource with a dual purpose.

According to Rod Turner, Plant Health Australia’s Risk Management Manager, the new site helps beekeepers to keep hives healthy and tells producers about the yield benefits that pollination of crops by honey bees can bring.

Some, but not all, crops depend on pollination to get good yields of fruit or seeds.

“The importance of pollination is often poorly understood. Pollen can be moved by various means, including wind, birds and other insects. But honey bees are the most important insect pollinator for a range of cultivated agricultural and horticultural crops,” said Mr Turner.

“At the Bee Aware website, farmers can find out how to boost yields by placing hives of honey bees near production areas. Crops that see the largest benefits include almonds, cherries, avocados, melons, blueberries, some vegetables, legumes, oilseeds, apples and macadamias.”

Mr Turner said that wild bees pollinate a lot of crops at the moment, but should an exotic pest such as varroa mite get through border controls and become established in Australia, the number of wild bees would drop and crop yields with them.

Dead bees outside hives

Dead bees outside hives. The Bee Aware site also has information for beekeepers and growers on how to avoid pesticide poisoning of bees. Photo: Bryn Jones, Crop Pollination Association

“Our strong border quarantine system has so far protected us from many of the pests of bees that have hit hives hard overseas. But pollination experts agree that if one of these pests should make into the country, farmers will increasingly need to use commercial honey bee pollination services,” Mr Turner said.

Existing pests like small hive beetle, which are uncontrolled in wild bee populations, already reduce pollination of crops in some areas. The site includes information for beekeepers on how to manage these and other pests to keep apiaries healthy.

The site received an enthusiastic response at the Victorian Apiarists Association Conference where it was launched. It was developed by a partnership between the Australian Government, the honey bee industry and pollinator-reliant industries through the Pollination Program, which is managed by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Horticulture Australia Limited.

Visit the Bee Aware site