Home' Grower : July 2012 Contents The South Australian Grower -- July 2012
Apiarist Leigh Duffield says the Varroa mite has had a serious impact on
the viability of beekeeping and food products dependant on pollination
across the world.
Horticulture remains totally
unprepared for Varroa mite
By MIRANDA KENNY
VARROA mite has the potential
to cause a $261-million annual
loss to horticulture crops in
South Australia, according to a PIRSA
report first published in 2008.
Aapiarist Leigh Duffield says the
threat has not gone away.
He says it is a matter of "if, not
when" the parasitic mite finds its
way to Australia.
"The recent incursion of the Asian
honeybee into Australia (Apis cer-
ana) poses a great threat to the
future food production in
Australia," said Mr Duffield, who is
a partner in the Australian
Honeybee Improvement Program.
"Cerana is the natural host to the
Varroa mite which has had a very
serious impact on the viability of
pollination and food products
dependant on pollination around
the world," he said.
Horticultural crops such as
almonds, apple, citr us, stone fruit
and vegetables and broadacre crops
such as canola, peas, beans and
lucerne seed would all be affected.
"If Varroa arrives in Australia, we
will have no economic way of com-
batting it in managed hives as a
ready source of reinfection will be
available in the feral colonies of cer-
ana," Mr Duffield said.
"All industries dependant on pol-
lination need to start planning to
prevent what could be a disaster."
Mr Duffield said the small-hive
beetle was a major concern.
"It is endemic in Australia, but it
was only found in South Australia
last month," he said.
"It gets in hives and ruins honey,
it's a real mongrel. It's almost taken
the Queensland honeybee industry
out of existence."
Mr Duffield said if the beetle was
not controlled by the start of the
pollination season in SA in August
1, it could spread across the State
within six weeks, affecting hives in
orchards from Lindsay Point to the
Almond Board of Australia chair-
man Brendan Sidhu is confident
the parasitic Varroa mite will not
decimate the industry, worth more
than $200m in 2011, as it has plans
"The almond industry is investing
a lot of money in this problem," he
Mr Sidhu said New Zealand
research into Varroa-resistant bees
had produced some good results.
"They are researching bees that
destroy Varroa-affected bee lar vae,"
He said a self-fertile, nonpareil
almond called Independence devel-
oped in California could produce
nuts without bee pollination.
The ABA was also running polli-
nation trials to work out optimum
bee densities in orchards.
"We hope to halve the rate from
its current level of 6.5 to 7/ha," Mr
Commercial beekeeper Ian
Zadow, who is also on the executive
council of the SA Apiarist
Association, said the industry could
do a lot to fight the Varroa.
"It's not just about pointing the
finger at the government," he said.
Lucerne Australia chairman Shane
Oster said Varroa would have a
major effect on the $95m
Australian lucerne seed industr y.
He said lucerne production relied
"almost 100 per cent" on honey-
bees for pollination.
"So if, and when, the Varroa mite
gets here we will find that pollina-
tors will be reduced significantly,"
Mr Oster said the industry was
relying on the State government to
do its utmost to ensure there were
"Ultimately, we will be reliant on
biosecurity and quarantine," he
He said trials with lucerne leafcut-
Threat to canola, peas,
beans, lucerne seed
Industries need to start plan-
Small hive beetle raising
Researchers look for answers
CSIRO bee pathologist Dennis
Anderson believes if between $5
million and $10m is put into long-
term genetic research, a varroa
mite-resistant bee could be
produced within five to 10 years.
"Unfortunately, it seems there is
not that sort of money around," he
Mr Anderson says of the "tens
and hundreds" of mites on a bee,
only three have migrated from the
Asian honeybee to the European
"In Australia, we have been able
to do a lot of pre-emptive work on
varroa," he said.
"We went back to Asia and
examined the mites on Asian
honeybees, then examined the
mites on European honeybees, and
found there had only been three
host switches from the Asian
honeybee to the European
honeybee since the 1950s -- in
Korea, Japan and Papua New
"So a single female mite was
able to recognise certain chemical
signals in the European honeybee,
that this mite needed to tap into
for its breeding cycle."
Mr Anderson said if researchers
discovered what those signals
were, they could possibly breed a
European honeybee that did not
produce those signals, which
would then be resistant to varroa.
He said another parasitic mite --
tropilaelaps -- was discovered in
Asia and had the potential to be
very damaging to the European
Tropilaelaps is commonly found
on the giant Asian honeybee.
"It has very similar effects to
varroa," Mr Anderson said.
"But this mite can reproduce
much faster. Its weakness is that it
can only breed on larval stages."
ter bees -- a species resistant to
Varroa -- were continuing but there
was only a very small population in
He said overseas trials with other
Varroa-resistant bees were promis-
ing, but quarantine laws prevented
the importation of bee genetics to
In the PIRSA study, it was esti-
mated that Varroa could cause a
loss of $261m to the horticulture
industry, in particular almonds and
SA Agriculture minister Gail Gago
said Australia remained at risk of
incursion of the Varroa mite and
the State was working closely with
the Commonwealth Government
to monitor likely entrypoints such
as ports and airports.
"If Varroa is detected in South
Australia, Biosecurity SA would
work with the apiaries industry at a
State and national level to mount
an appropriate response," she said.
"The Rural Industries Research
and Development Corporation
looks after research and develop-
ment funding and distribution of
funds for honeybees and diseases.
South Australia and other states
contribute to this research which is
Ms Gago said a recent detection
of Small Hive Beetle in SA was
reported and confirmed.
"An alert apiarist in the lower
South East reported suspected
adult SHB in his hives," she said.
"SHB is considered to be a sub-
tropical pest and has caused signifi-
cant problems in coastal NSW and
Qld, particularly until apiarist man-
agement practices changed.
"To date there is no evidence that
SHB is widespread in SA.
Biosecurity SA will retain existing
border controls in relation to this
Minister Gago said it was illegal to
bring hives into SA from Victoria
without a health certificate.
"Exemptions can be sought fol-
lowing risk assessment," Minister
"All apiarists are reminded that
SHB is a notifiable pest. It is illegal
to bring SHB into South Australia
and any affected inter-state hives
will require treatment."
Minister Gago said to prevent
SHB from spreading, apiarists
should maintain strong, queen-
right colonies in hives without
excessive room, process removed
product or material quickly unless
temperature-controlled, and use
sound general hygiene.
Details: For information on SHB identifica-
tion and management go to
Nathan: 0408 633 661
Nathan: 0408 633 661
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