A year after devastating bushfires destroyed vast areas of bushland and prompted a nationwide honey shortage, Australian beekeepers are still facing a hard slog to make ends meet.
Millions of bees also remain in recovery mode after a lack of food and water dramatically depleted their strength, leaving them unable to produce usual amounts of honey or engage in pollination services.
Ryan d’Almeida, CEO of Hive + Wellness, the company behind the Capilano brand, said while there were signs of hope, with forest areas in northern NSW recovering more quickly than expected, the environment remained a very challenging one for beekeepers.
“Honey is becoming harder and harder to produce, with erratic and extreme climatic events being experienced across Australia,” Mr d’Almeida said. “Beekeepers have to work much harder than their grandfathers did to find a reliable nectar flow.”
Mr d’Almeida said the impact of last year’s drought and bushfires would continue for years. “Many beekeepers are still trying to cope with the effect the fires had on their hives and businesses. Some are still not running fully productive operations as they are leaving honey on the bees to regain colony strength and build their numbers back up.”
Some areas of bushland would be unfit for beekeeping for many years, he added. “There are areas where the fire was extremely hot and eucalyptus trees burnt up through the canopy – some of these are not expected to recover for a decade.”
Mr d’Almeida urged national and state governments to support the industry, whose importance extends far beyond the annual Australian honey production amount of 20,000 tonnes. Pollination services provided by the nation’s bees are estimated to contribute $14.2 billion to Australia’s economy each year, and are essential for production of crops including almonds, avocadoes and blueberries.
“Beekeepers are becoming more and more competitive in the pursuit of what resources are left. Government needs to help support the industry with additional access to public land for beekeepers, and cannot allow any restrictions on current access.”
Mr d’Almeida said he was delighted that donations to Hive Aid, the beekeeper support fund established and promoted by Rural Aid, Hive + Wellness and industry body AHBIC1 during the 2019/2020 bushfire season, had now reached $513,000. “To have public and corporate donations to the tune of half a million dollars is a real sign that Australians recognise the crucial work of beekeepers and their bees. These funds have been a vital lifeline to many beekeepers, and I expect will continue to be needed given the current outlook.”
Mr d’Almeida particularly urged West Australian beekeepers to consider applying to Hive Aid for support. While Western Australia was less severely impacted last year, this season was shaping up as one of the state’s worst on record, with numerous bushfires posing threats to lives and livelihoods, he said.
“Fires in the shires of Gingin and Dandaragan burned 9,500 hectares of land, while drought is also reducing the food available for bees. Added to that, controlled burning initiated by government has led to widespread loss of key beekeeping country. This loss of native floral resources will jeopardise industry livelihoods, and risks a flow-on effect to the wider agricultural industry that depends on bees. We really need to get behind our beekeepers to ensure they can recover and stay in the industry.”
Mr d’Almeida said a bright note for the industry was the increasing household demand for honey, with more people actively choosing honey over sugar as a cooking, baking and breakfast ingredient. “Honey is a natural sweetener packed full of nutrients, minerals and antioxidants, and these benefits are increasingly recognised by consumers as they prioritise healthy aspects of food,” he said.
Hive + Wellness, which produces our iconic Capilano Honey from 100% Australian honey, is the largest honey packer, marketer and supporter of beekeepers in Australia. Our beekeepers account for a significant proportion of Australia’s honey production.