The programme is working to produce queen bees with superior honey production, disease resistance and improved pollination performance.
Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair said the Government’s investment in this programme addresses a clear gap in the market. “Genetic gains in honey production are estimated to be worth up to $41 million over the next 25 years. Currently there is no significant genetic improvement of managed honey bees in Australia and anecdotal evidence suggests the quality of breeder queens is declining.
“Our researchers will now begin to evaluate the suitability of Australian and overseas honey bee populations for a range of production and health-related traits and use these results to produce superior queen bees for commercial breeders.”
The programme should provide a boost to the incomes of beekeepers, while ensuring the sustainability of pollination services for many reliant firms across horticulture and cropping.
One of the drivers for genetic improvement is the need to actively protect the domestic industry from one of the biggest killers of honey bees – Varroa mite.
Blair said Varroa mite is the most serious pest to honey bees worldwide and is established in every major beekeeping area of the world, except Australia. This parasitic mite feeds on the blood of adult and larval honey bees, and spreads disease between colonies.
“Varroa mite would devastate the honey bee population in Australia, killing a significant proportion of managed colonies and wiping out wild colonies across the country. This would affect more than just commercial beekeeping industries – it would devastate the 35 pollination-dependent industries that rely on our bees.”
As part of the project, a new research apiary will be based at DPI’s Tocal Agricultural College, with approximately 250 hives, a honey extraction plant and facilities for the instrumental insemination of bees. DPI is currently seeking co-investment from industry partners to further expand this project, with a collaborative group already including the University of New England, University of Sydney and the Wheen Bee Foundation.
Source: NSW DPI