Honey industry seeks help for drought-stricken beekeepers
THE honey industry has launched Hive Aid, a campaign to help bushfire and drought-stricken beekeepers who are handfeeding their bees with expensive pollen.
Richlands-based Hive and Wellness, which produces Capilano honey, has joined other honey industry leaders to help take the sting out of the drought for beekeepers and their "littlest livestock".
Hive and Wellness chief operations officer Ben McKee said the cost of drought and bushfire had all but wiped out some professional beekeepers who have harvested no honey for months but are hand feeding pollen and carting water to keep their bees alive.
The pain is being felt all the way up the production chain from bees and beekeepers to honey packers Capilano, based at Richlands, where 120 mostly full-time jobs revolve around processing and packaging.
Capilano takes honey from more than half of Australia's 1500 professional beekeepers.
Mr McKee said beekeepers were doing it so tough people were leaving the industry and they now needed help just to keep their bees alive.
"If we don't take immediate action, we risk not just a fall in honey production, but declines in food production across the board," Mr McKee said.
"The honey shortage is what consumers will see first, but the ramifications of the current conditions are much greater."
Last week the Capilano brand joined with Rural Aid and peak industry body The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council (AHBIC), to launch Hive Aid, a drought and bushfire relief campaign aimed specifically at struggling beekeepers.
Mr McKee said Australia's $58 billion agricultural industry was at risk without support for the nation's "littlest livestock with the biggest impact".
The industry group is calling on consumers and government to back Australian beekeepers and honey bees.
A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Mark Furner said discussions with the Queensland Beekeepers Association was ongoing and they were awaiting a submission from the QBA before continuing those discussions.
Mr McKee said conditions had never been worse for beekeepers.
"I'm from a family of beekeepers and there's been nothing like this before with a drop of 50 per cent of a normal crop this year," he said.
"Honey production is like farming, it's seasonal and there are lots of big families of beekeepers that rely on moving their bees around to pollinate eucalypts and agricultural crops but both drought and bushfires have created devastation in the feed for bees.
"The bees are in poor conditions, producing less honey, and the beekeepers have to feed them by hand, buying pollen, which is expensive, and carting water.
"It's less well known that busy bees need to drink a lot of water."
So far, consumers have been faced with a 5-10 per cent increase in the price of Australian honey, which Mr McKee says is being passed back to beekeepers who have to manage lower production income and higher costs.
"Bees are directly responsible for pollinating one third of everything we eat - they have an impact on crops as varied as apples, avocados and broccoli, as well as feed crops used for livestock."
Hive Aid will be overseen by AHBIC, and will provide financial and practical support to professional beekeepers.
The campaign sits alongside other programs run by Rural Aid with 100% of funds raised through the Hive Aid campaign going directly to beekeepers.
"It is easy to overlook our littlest livestock and the forgotten farmers who care for them, but there should be no doubt about their importance.
"The contribution of honey bees to agriculture in Australia through pollination services is estimated at up to $20 billion."
Rural Aid national business development manager Wayne Thomson said the campaign would provide immediate assistance, such as supporting beekeepers with the cost of water or the cost of fuel to transport hives to areas with better nutritional resources for their bees.
"Individual beekeepers may have different needs - our support will enable funds to be directed where they are most needed," Mr Thomson said.
AHBIC chairman Peter McDonald said the challenges were extreme and the campaign aimed to deliver targeted assistance to beekeepers that would complement government-funded assistance such as fodder and freight subsidies and waiving of National Park permit and truck registration fees in NSW.
Donations to the Hive Aid campaign can be made here.
Professional beekeepers are encouraged to register for assistance with Hive Aid via Rural Aid.