Flow on effects from the state's Varroa mite incursion will be seen for some time despite the emergency response transitioning from containment and eradication to management last week.
Many beekeepers are saying the pivot in the response has come too late with more than 30,000 hives euthanised since the sentinel sites at Port of Newcastle first detected the hive-collapsing mite on June 22, 2022.
Managing director Goldfields Honey Australia, John Lockwood, said a number of factors need to change for the NSW honey and pollination industry to return to pre-Varroa mite capacity.
Goldfields Honey, based at Vittoria between Orange and Bathurst in the state's Central West, had 11,500 hives survive the winter only to lose a large amount to containment practices during this year's almond pollination.
"We prepared our hives with 11,500 ready to go to almonds,' he said.
"Just before we went, we got 1000 hives stuck in the surveillance zone at Gumble, so they couldn't go.
"But we got about 10,000 hives onto the almonds before a friend of mine from Kempsey bought hives to the same orchard, and he had no idea his hives had a Varroa mite infestation.
"He had done his alcohol washes and didn't find anything, but he bought Varroa into the almond orchard at Balranald.
"As a result, he lost all his hives in the orchard and we lost 2500 hives just last week. Last week they were euthanised, and now it has gone to management."
Mr Lockwood said the timing of the transition was tough to swallow.
"It's pretty devastating," he said.
"We were very unlucky with the timing of the change in response.
"The DPI wanted to keep going. They kept going right until the end, trying to bring the mite under containment.
"I was supportive of eradicating the whole time as I thought this is the only chance in history to really give it (containment) a go.
"While it was in the Newcastle area, we might have had a bit of a chance.
"Even with the spot fires, like the one we got stuck in at Gumble, I was still supportive. Even though we were affected by it, I still thought okay, let's keep going.
"But Kempsey got detected, and a lot of bees had moved out of the area where it had just been sleeping for a long time without anyone knowing, and those movements out of Kempsey just spread all through the state.
"I believe as soon as those infestations at Kempsey were detected, and it was very evident that it had spread.
"There were several infected properties, not just almonds, but Tamworth and around the Pilliga, that would have raised the alarm bells."
While Goldfields took a significant hit, Mr Lockwood said there were those worse off than his business.
"Our business will be okay, we'll recover," he said.
"But I really feel for the guys that got totally wiped out and lost all their bees. They've got nothing to go on with.
"Looking forward as the mite spreads throughout the eastern seaboard, it's really going to hit the beekeeping industry.
"It could wipe out 30 or 40 per cent of the kept hives in Australia through hive collapse.
"I think a lot of good operators will be okay. They will learn to live with it through miticide strips or organics."
Mr Lockwood believes Australia will have a harder time managing the mite than other countries have.
"The biggest difference with managing Varroa mite around the world versus in Australia is our climate," he said.
"We have a long honey season as opposed to even New Zealand or the northern hemisphere where they have a long winter.
"That winter gives the bees a rest and a brood break and the might itself breeds on the brood.
"Whereas here in Australia with our warm climates, we have brood all the year round and the mites will constantly be breeding."
He said there was one other key factor which will make management tougher in the first few years.
"The other big difference in Australia compared to the rest of the world is the feral population," Mr Lockwood said.
"It's predicted there are around 90 feral colonies per square-kilometre in Australia.
"As Varroa moves through the landscape, our hives will constantly be getting re-infected from the feral colonies.
"That will be the case until all the feral bees die, but the next few years while they are heavily infected, it's really going to be hard for kept bees to be managed.
"And then we have to account for winter losses.
"At the moment in Australia, if you're a good beekeeper, 95pc of your hives come through winter.
"Now we've got to expect, we might have 30pc dead every winter. That's a big hit.
"That all comes down to our bottom line, which is going to have to flow onto the pollination dependent industries or else we just won't be viable."
The clusters that were the eradication zones at Kempsey, Central Coast and in the Hunter are now management zones, although Mr Lockwood said there may not be a need for miticide strips from the beginning.
"I don't think they will need them straight away," he said.
"All the infected properties with the high Varroa mite loadings have been euthanised.
"So any bees left in those zones should have a very low mite level and the same with the rest of the state.
"That doesn't necessarily mean you need to treat it straight away.
"There is an economic threshold within the beehive and once the mite builds up to a certain level, then you treat them.
"As an industry, we don't need to panic. it is going to take time to meet that economic threshold and need the miticide strips."
With more than 30,000 hives euthanised state wide, rebuilding the bee population will be a significant effort. However, Mr Lockwood said it doesn't make economic sense for Goldfields to re-build their numbers.
"I'm not sure if we will re-build our bee numbers," he said.
"I could go out tomorrow and split 2500 or 3000 hives and make the numbers we lost up again.
"But it's not economically viable for us to do so at the moment.
"With imported honey flooding into the country, we've got very low honey prices in Australia.
"So for us to expand now is simply not viable. We wouldn't see more dollars."
A management response is believed to be going to cost the industry in the region of $5.2 billion long-term, and those costs will need to be shared.
"That's going to have a flow on effect for other industries, it's going to cost them more," Mr Lockwood said.
"The cost of running our hives is really going to skyrocket.
"We're going to have to pay for a lot of chemicals and the labour bill will probably double to manage the mite itself."
Mr Lockwood said he was unsure what pollination would look like next year.
"If I had a crystal ball, I could probably tell you what is going to happen in regards to pollination," he said.
"What I see is a lot of guys not wanting to go to almonds as they will be worried about getting infected so they'll stay home."
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