Beekeepers face new threat from varroa mite

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has estimated the Varroa mite will cost the New Zealand economy between $400 and $900 million over 35 years. Photo / Northern Advocate
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has estimated the Varroa mite will cost the New Zealand economy between $400 and $900 million over 35 years. Photo / Northern Advocate

Hundreds of beekeepers are gathering this month to talk about a major threat posed to their industry by the varroa mite's resistance to chemicals used to control it.

The National Beekeepers' Association (NBA) is holding workshops throughout July to brief beekeepers on the results of the Varroa-Sensitive Hygiene (VSH) Project, a piece of research aimed at developing varroa-resistant bees.

The varroa mite first entered New Zealand in April 2000 and is the most damaging honey bee pest worldwide, said NFA president Barry Foster.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) estimated the mite will cost the New Zealand economy between $400 and $900 million over 35 years.

"The industry in New Zealand has managed it well for the last decade, but we always knew the mite would eventually become resistant to the chemicals with which we've treated it successfully until now," he said.

"This looming resistance issue poses threats to beekeepers and to the multi-billion dollar agricultural sectors that rely on bees for pollination."

The five-year VSH Project offered the latest information about varroa control and could be pivotal in helping manage New Zealand's struggle with the varroa mite, Foster said.

It was designed to breed a population of bees that could deal with the varroa mite naturally, with some assistance from beekeepers.

Almost 500 beekeepers have registered to attend workshops, the first of which took place in Christchurch on July 12.

Plant and Food Research, which carried out the VSH research, will brief beekeepers on the outcome of the project.

Other speakers at the workshops come from Betta Bees, which is leading the bee-breeding work to further develop the varroa-resistant strains

The Ministry for Primary Industries and Federated Farmers' Bee Industry Group are also being represented at the workshops.

The next workshop will be at the Claudelands Events Centre in Hamilton on July 26.

The NBA wesbite states that there are 3,251 registered beekeepers, 23,395 apiaries and 388,369 beehives in New Zealand.

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