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

Pollination agreements avoid getting stung

September 2, 2016
Truck and hives-5

Because they usually travel at night, you are unlikely to see a truck load of bee hives like this on the road. But this is typical of the movement of bee hives in spring chasing flowers for honey bees to feed on. Photo: Ian Zadow

It’s an annual spring event as beekeepers move hives from one area of the country to another following the flower blossoms of nut, fruit and vegetable plants that need pollination by bees to produce a crop.

The season starts with almonds, usually in August, which are almost entirely dependent on bees for pollination and seed set.

Plant Health Australia’s General Manager, Risk Management, Rod Turner, says that many commercial beekeepers move their hives for pollination contracts and to follow honey flows.

“More than 100,000 bee hives are placed in orchards in northwest Victoria for almond pollination alone, which takes only a month to complete,” said Rod.

Bee biosecurity officers

Biosecurity officers from Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales check hives placed in an almond crop for signs of pests and disease. Photo: Michael Holmes

“Hiring hives is the most common way growers get the hives their crops need for pollination. Trucks carrying millions of bees move at night after all the foragers have returned to the hive, so you might not actually see them being moved.”

“The distances travelled by some beekeepers in the migration, sometimes between states, means that they need to carry their own water supply for their livestock.”

Nets are slung over the load to contain the bees, until the beekeeper is ready to release the bees in the crop.

This movement of hives, as well as the drifting and robbing habits of honey bees, means that any pests or diseases can be difficult to contain.

“Events like this can be a cause for biosecurity concern,” advised Rod.

But adopting biosecurity measures in day-to-day management practices will help minimise the risk of pest and disease transmission between honey bee colonies and apiaries.

“Every beekeeper should try to use industry best practice guidelines to provide a high standard of pollination service,” said Rod.

“When hiring hives for pollination, many beekeepers and growers find it a good idea to have a pollination agreement. This approach has the advantage that the growers can specify exactly what they need.”

Burning infested hives

There is no treatment for hives infected by American foul brood. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria but not spores, so the hive frame remains contaminated. Hives need to be burnt and buried, or irradiated. Photo: Michael Holmes

Although they can vary, key aspects of a pollination agreement should specify:

  • names, addresses, location of the crop and number of colonies
  • timing of delivery and the strength (number of frames of brood and bees) of the colonies
  • distribution of hives throughout the crop
  • rental fees and terms of payment
  • provision for an independent audit of hive quality and the name of an arbitrator
  • protection of bees from pesticides.

“Agreements, or contracts, are useful because there’s no confusion over what the grower thinks they are hiring and what the beekeeper thinks they need to supply,” said Rod.

They become very important if there are any problems with what’s supplied or something happens to the bees when they are working the crop.

For more information about pollination of crops by bees, sample pollination agreements and fact sheets, go to the Pollination agreements page on the BeeAware website.