A local Ballarat beekeeper believes the Varroa mite outbreak could have major implications on smaller honey producers and pollinators.
Committee member of the Ballarat Regional Beekeepers group Scott Denno said the next few years will be crucial in keeping a vibrant local beekeeping community while also communicating how to best control the parasite.
While the outbreak will impact large-scale commercial beekeepers, Mr Denno said smaller business owners, or "sidline beekeepers" who also sell honey and offer pollination services, along with more recreational beekeepers, could suffer the most.
Mr Denno, who is also the lead beekeeper at Backyard Beekeeping Ballarat, said he was considering reducing the number of his hives.
"I also have a full-time job, and bees are a passion, so do I do my full-time job and then put more effort into my bees?" he said.
"It's questionable, and I'm hoping I can, but I just need to wait and see."
"Looking at New Zealand experience [with Varroa mite], sideline beekeepers got hit hard and lost a lot of recreational beekeepers because many weren't ready."
A strong interest in beekeeping remains, with the Ballarat Beekeeping Club recently training ten new beekeepers.
Mr Denno said class attendees all understood the impact of Varroa mite, which made him optimistic about good future management of the parasite.
"The apiary department at Agriculture Victoria has been so proactive for so long that club members are fully aware of what to expect and understand that reporting disease and pests are important."
The most recent Varroa mite outbreak began after being discovered in hives at a Newcastle port in June 2022.
It has since spread throughout NSW.
A National Management Group working to eradicate the mite decided to move to managing it in September after mite detections were found in hives at the NSW towns of Euston and Balranald near the Victorian border.
The parasite feeds on pupae and adult bees, spreading viruses that impair their ability to fly, making them more exposed to pesticides, leading to a colony collapse if not managed.
Mr Denno said the arrival of Varroa mite meant an increase in labour in beekeeping businesses, which will also mean increased costs
"For people who sell honey like we do, that price increase will then flow on to the customer," he said.
Mr Denno said pollination services could also be more costly and estimated anywhere between a 30 to 100 per cent price increase on pollination services.
That could once again mean price rises for products originating from crops like canola or almonds.
"If right now we're getting $200 a hive for pollination services for a four-week contract, it could rise to $260, or it could be up to $400," he said.
Mr Denno said there would still need to be a concerted effort to educate small beekeeping operators.
"For those people who are actively involved in clubs and beekeeping in the broader community, they have been getting ready for this mite for the last five years," he said.
"We started out doing sugar shakes, looking for Varroa mite even though we didn't have it then, it was a practice that the government asked us to do, and we would always report negative results."
He also said alcohol washes were also "about 90 per cent effective" but said the most important thing people could do is support local beekeepers the best they can.
Victoria's chief plant health officer Rosa Crnov said the NSW Varroa mite outbreak was no longer feasible to eradicate despite sustained efforts.
"Victoria remains free of Varroa mite, and under the Transition to Management program the focus will be on slowing the spread of Varroa and ensuring our industries are prepared and supported for its arrival," Dr Crnov said.
Despite the transition to management, beekeepers will need to continue to record bee movements, regularly test bees for Varroa and follow the requirements of any permits they are under.
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