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Millions of bees killed from ongoing effects of New South Wales floods

Tuesday May 4, 2021 - 23:16 AEST
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Around 6,000 beehives across the Mid North Coast have been destroyed. - ABC

Di McQueen-Richardson's bee farm at Coutts Crossing on the New South Wales Mid North Coast is still suffering from the ongoing impact of the once-in-a-century flood.

Just over a month after her farm was hit by the natural disaster, the growing number of decimated hives on the property has surpassed 100.

"I'd say there were 120 hives destroyed altogether, and with 20 to 50,000 bees per hive that's a lot of bees," Ms McQueen-Richardson said.

"We would have lost millions of bees."

Initially, floodwaters were responsible for destroying several beehives on the property, but prolonged rainfall in the region had far more devastating effects.

"It was quite a bit of time that the bees weren't able to get out of the hives and go foraging," Ms McQueen-Richardson said.

"What happens then is they use up their honey stores inside their hives to keep them going.

"When [the stored honey] runs out the hives can perish."

In addition to this, hives are being targeted by an abundance of predatory insects. 

"After the bush fires it seems insects have boomed," Ms McQueen-Richardson said.

"Ants and small hive beetles have been a huge issue this season."

While ants essentially take over a hive searching for honey, the small hive beetle, among other things, plant their larvae in honeycomb, fermenting the honey.

"They effectively turn the frames of comb to liquid slush," Ms McQueen-Richardson said.

"It's not a smell you ever want to smell, it's horrible. It's a horrible experience when you open a hive and see that it has been slimed out."

'It all adds up'

Ms McQueen-Richardson said the damage sustained from the floods has severely impacted her business.

"We had orders of hives that were to go out to people that we haven't been unable to fulfil," she said.

"It has cost us probably $70,000, possibly more if you include loss of income from not being able to sell those hives."

Ms McQueen-Richardson said they have had to start hand-feeding the bees that did survive, which comes at a big cost.

"We've been feeding them twice a day since the floods and we are going to have to continue that now until the weather warms up again," she said.

"It's costing us between $60 and $90 a day to feed the bees. It really adds up."

Whole region affected 

New South Wales Apiarist Association North Coast Branch president Steve Fuller says it is a similar story for most beekeepers on the Mid North Coast.

"At the moment we're looking at 50 beekeepers [from the Mid North Coast] that were pretty severely affected, but up to 100 [have been impacted]," he said.

"There is an estimate of 6,000 hives were destroyed on the coast."

Mr Fuller said the region will feel the brunt of the huge bee loss.

"North of Taree has become a real fruit bowl ? blueberries, avocados and so much more. This area really needs bees," he said.

"In most pollination areas when bees pollinate it gives a larger fruit, it increases a farmer's yield.

"The bee industry is just so important, especially for our agriculture industry."

Farmers notice bees' absence

Bonville blueberry grower Amandeep Singh said at least half of his next crop will be thrown away due to a lack of pollination.

"We need a lot of bees to do the pollination," he said.

"All the flowering happened during the three weeks of rain, so that pollination didn't happen.

"The results will appear in four, five weeks when the fruit will be small and it'll be aborted."

Mr Singh said a lack of bees had created another layer of stress recovering from floods.

"We lost about $150,000 worth of fruit ? and everyone in the chain, including our workers, suffered," he said.

"The added pressure is that the bees couldn't work as well."


© ABC 2021

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