Friday, December 1, 2023

MPI pours funding into saving cyclone-hit hives

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Starvation and varroa mites beset hives out of reach in back country.
Up to 8000 hives in cyclone hit parts of New Zealand can still not be accessed, says Karin Kos.
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Beekeepers in cyclone-ravaged areas of the North Island can now access government funding aimed at helping prevent the spread of disease in hives. 

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos said at least 5000 hives were destroyed in Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti by Cyclone Gabrielle.

However, up to 8000 more hives are still inaccessible and their future remains unknown. Kos said many hives are in isolated parts of farms, and road or track access has been cut because of flood damage.

“That’s the real issue,” says Kos.“Just being able to get to theses hives. 

“It’s the end of the season, treatments need to be put in place and beekeepers need to check the general bee health.” 

Late last week the Ministry for Primary Industries confirmed $250,000 in funding to support beekeepers in cyclone-hit areas, specifically aimed at reducing the biosecurity threat to hives.

“I’m thrilled for our beekeepers to get that funding. [The cyclone] has had a huge impact on many beekeepers, their future and their incomes.

“The funding is all around minimising that biosecurity threat for those hives that are still healthy.”

Gisborne beekeeper Barry Foster said the cyclone was a further knockback for the industry following covid. He has heard of cases where beekeepers lost 650 hives to flooding.

“There have been some quite big losses. But there are a lot out there that we haven’t counted yet that will have been lost to starvation or varroa. They’re stranded in the back country somewhere.”

Foster said some beekeepers had used helicopters to remove hives, while others had built temporary roads to gain access.

Ideally hive treatment should be done by late February or early March as varroa mite numbers traditionally build up in autumn. He expects more hives to be lost as varroa damages wintering bees. 

Kos said beekeepers can apply for MPI funding by emailing and the money can be used for a variety of things, such as fuel, equipment hire and the retrieval of damaged gear and hives.

Hives can be insured, but Kos said most beekeepers do not bother as the premiums are too expensive. The cyclone had a huge impact on beekeepers in the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti areas and to a lesser extent Northland. The financial impact on the industry is as yet unknown, but Kos reassured consumers there is unlikely to be any shortage of honey on supermarket shelves in coming months.

“We’ve got a lot of honey stocks around the country. There’s been an oversupply in recent years so there is going to be no issue for consumers.”
Figures released last week from an industry colony loss survey showed varroa continues to be the No 1 destroyer of hives. 

The overall colony loss rate during winter 2022 was 13.5%, almost identical to the loss rate in winter 2021.  The survey estimates that 6.4% of all living colonies (nearly half of all colony losses) were lost to suspected varroa and related complications over the 2022 winter. 

Kos said the survey shows varroa management among beekeepers has improved, which is a positive.

“People find they need to take a lot more care with varroa. One or two treatments a year doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore. There is an ongoing need to treat for varroa and that adds another expense.”

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