NSW Bee Biosecurity Officer update

This update from NSW Bee Biosecurity Officer Rod Bourke gives an overview of his main activities since mid-2019.

Exchanging mite experience with New Zealand

Rod Bourke with beehive

In June-July 2019, I visited New Zealand to look at varroa in different beekeeping operations with Mark Page, the NSW DPI Bee Biosecurity Officer (Surveillance). We saw that you can run productive and profitable beehives if you manage your hives properly and keep on top of mite numbers.

The first two commercial beekeepers we visited maintained very good varroa management, including the use of multiple brands of miticide strips when off honey flows, oxalic acid strips and frequent mineral oil fogging. We could find no live varroa using the three mite monitoring methods, and only a few dead mites on sticky mats. The biggest issue for these beekeepers was re-invasion via bees from poorly managed hives nearby.

Hayley Pragert of NZ Ministry for Primary Industries (and former NSW Bee Biosecurity Officer) intentionally neglected some of her own hives in preparation for our visit. We saw a noticeable varroa presence, as well as bees affected by deformed wing virus and acute paralysis virus. It was a very sad sight.

This experience in New Zealand confirmed that we absolutely do not want exotic mites becoming established in Australia.

In order to maintain that status, it is imperative that every beekeeper does regular mite surveillance on their hives, using the sugar shake, alcohol wash and drone uncapping methods.

Live varroa are extremely hard to spot on bees as they normally hide and feed on the underside of the bee or under capped brood. If a beekeeper is relying on their eyesight to spot varroa then they are wasting their time and putting many hives at risk.

In November 2019, I manned the NSW DPI booth at the Amateur Beekeepers Association (ABA) Bee Field Day with Mark. We also hosted Hayley Pragert and Richard Hall from NZ Ministry for Primary Industries on a small hive beetle tour in return for their hospitality earlier in the year. New Zealand doesn’t want small hive beetle in the same way we don’t want varroa!

Other activities

Since mid-2019 I have also undertaken a range of other activities, including:

  • Observing two NSW DPI bee compliance operations this spring. While compliance activities are not part of my role, observing them is a great way to meet beekeepers and assist some them to improve their biosecurity.
  • Presenting three face-to-face bee biosecurity courses through the Tocal College. Other courses were scheduled for late March and early April but have been postponed due to the COVID-19 situation.
  • Submitting articles to the NSW Apiarists’ Association Honey Bee News, ABA and Bee Biosecurity Newsletter.
  • Attending the Bee Industry Biosecurity Consultative Committee six monthly meeting in March.
  • Fielding phone calls and emails from concerned beekeepers when over 2000 American foulbrood alert emails went out recently.
  • Sharing information about NSW’s upcoming implementation of the Australian Honey Bee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice as a condition of registration from 1 July 2020. Between November 2019 and March 2020 I spoke about the changes at five NSW Apiarists’ Association branches and the Tocal Bee Field Day.

Managing the right number of hives

Over the past year, the main problem that I have observed is beekeepers running too many hives for their capabilities and therefore not being able to manage them properly. I ask everybody to re-evaluate their operational size. Having too much dead wood and diseased hives not only impacts your own profitability but also others within bee flying distance of you.