Bid to breed super bees

Tocal College to work on million-dollar bees


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Primary Industries Department plant biosecurity, prevention and preparedness manager Chris Anderson and minister Niall Blair in their bee kit.

Primary Industries Department plant biosecurity, prevention and preparedness manager Chris Anderson and minister Niall Blair in their bee kit.

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In a bid to create genetically superior honey bees, the Primary Industries Department is tipping $1.3 million towards an Australian-first genetics program.

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A CASH Injection of $1.3 million and Primary Industries Department staffers will help develop stronger bees in NSW.

In an Australian first, Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair announced the new program on Friday morning in Orange.

The minister, who maintains three hives at his home in the Southern Highlands and studied apiculture, said the genetic strengths of the NSW bee population would be studied for beneficial attributes, such as disease resistance and prediposition to hygiene.

Those identified as having best performance would then be selected for further breeding at a program operating out of Tocal Agricultural College, in the Hunter Valley.

NSW is responsible for almost 40 per cent of Australia’s honey production and Vittoria-based Goldfields Honey chief beekeeper John Lockwood welcomed the government’s move.

“My understanding of it is they will be using DNA tests and stock from all over Australia and may even introduce genetics from around the world.

Mr Lockwood said Australian bee genetics needed a shake up, adding it had been a long time since any international genetics had been introduced.

He said queen bee longevity was lagging and there were fears among apiarists that Australian bees were becoming too inbred.

“We buy breeders at the moment and graft off that stock,” he said.

Mr Lockwood said in the United States and Europe some bees had been identified as having some resistance to the varroa mite (Varroa destructor) and it would be good to introduce such genetics into Australia’s bees.

He said he fully backed the new project and would be looking to invest in it.

DPI intensive livestock industries manager Alex Russell said DPI had anectdotal suggestions that queens were not performing as well as they once did.

He said when it came to the Varroa mite some bees in the US and Europe had either a natural tendancy for disease resistance or had built it up up as a result of exposure.

“Luckily in Australia, our bees have had no exposure to Varroa mite and we’d like to keep it that way,” he said.

This program will help capitalise on the genetic diversity that already exists in our bees, he said.

There are some regulatory hurdles to be negotiated before introducing international stock, he said.

Talks before Friday’s announcement also involved multinational almond producers, Olam and Select Harvest.

Mr Russell said almond growers were keen to see strong bees because the nuts are 100 per cent reliant on bees for pollination.

DPI has applied for funding from Horticulture Australia to further its pioneering program.

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