KEEPING bees in Australia is hassle-free compared with elsewhere.
The nation's diverse flora and varying climate support some of the biggest and best honey crops found anywhere.
- AT A GLANCE
- Who: Ben Hooper
- What: apiarist
- Why: inevitable threat
- Where: Tintinara, South Australia
However, all that could change forever if the destructive Varroa mite arrives here, and, according to some experts, that is almost inevitable.
Beekeeper and Nuffield scholar Ben Hooper, from Tintinara in South Australia, said the blood sucking parasite attacked larvae and adult bees and had decimated commercial colonies and wiped out wild populations the world over.
The most recent outbreak was in New Zealand.
"No country has successfully eradicated the Varroa mite," Ben said. "The international beekeeping community has thrown virtually everything at this pest."
However the result had been a strong build-up of resistance to miticides.
During his study tour, Ben visited Canada, the US, UK and China to see how their apiary industries were dealing with Varroa.
"Australian apiarists cannot afford to replicate the current actions of the international commercial beekeeping community," he said. "Integrated pest management is the only long-term strategy that will work for the Australia apiary industry.
" It is clear to me that, as bulk honey producers, we cannot repetitively use synthetic chemicals.
"We will have to use them in the short term, however this must include controlled rotation of active ingredients to minimise resistance."
Ben said his study tour also looked at the role of cold storage as a potential non-chemical tool in controlling Varroa mite.
"The mite requires brood within the hive to reproduce," he said.
"If you induce an artificial cold winter, far more severe than experienced here in Australia, a prolonged state of dormancy will result in a broodless hive, thereby breaking the life cycle of the parasite.
"A prolonged brood break will be essential in naturally suppressing mite populations."
Areas in Australia that encouraged bees to breed year round would have to find an alternative.
Ben said he was concerned the Australian industry was not taking advantage of the time it had.
"Organic treatments need to be explored," he said. "Trials can be undertaken without the presence of the Varroa mite to formulate a best practice manual.
"A great deal needs to be done before we are hampered with this parasite."