Friday, April 12, 2024

Mites gnaw into honey industry’s wellbeing

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New survey looks at how varroa affects not just hives, but beekeepers too.
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Varroa continues to gnaw into national hive health and beekeeper wellbeing, with the latest Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research survey finding the mite contributed to almost half last winter’s hive losses.

The agency’s colony loss survey provides a snapshot of national hive health, and its results are based on responses from about 40% of New Zealand’s beekeepers. 

For the first time the survey also surveyed for autumn hive losses, reported at 16.8%, compared to the 12.7% losses suffered over winter.

Also for the first time, the survey took a snapshot of beekeeper wellbeing, and highlighted the mite’s broader impact on the industry.

The survey questioned hobbyist beekeepers and commercial operators about their wellbeing, using a national standard wellbeing score. 

Hobbyist beekeepers are reportedly thriving, while commercial operators are struggling, and have wellbeing lower than the rest of the primary sector producers and the general population.

While concerning, the surveyed hive losses sit below the results of 2021 and 2022 – thought they are still higher than those of 2015 and 2020.

In 2022 colony hive loss rates were 13.5%.
Varroa’s impact on losses has been steadily increasing since it was first discovered over two decades ago. In the latest survey it has contributed to 50% of hive losses, compared to only a 12% contribution seven years ago.

Other than varroa, beekeepers reported problems with queen populations and suspected starvation within hives as problems over both winter and autumn. The autumn losses were chalked up largely to the devastating impact of cyclone Gabrielle down the east coast wiping out significant numbers of hives.

Three-quarters of beekeepers surveyed described their varroa pesticide treatment as “mostly successful” or “completely successful”, but all the treatments used were perceived by them as being less successful than in the previous survey.

The increase in varroa comes as the mite’s resistance to chemical treatment continues to grow.

 Work by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research released earlier this year highlighted that varroa mites were developing a unique resistance to flumethrin, the main insecticide used. It is one of only two compounds effective against varroa.

The reported losses were higher in the North Island than South.

The survey also took a look at what constitutes a “typical” NZ beekeeper: reportedly a male in his late 50s, most likely a first-generation beekeeper with three hives and five years of experience.

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