Bee parasite varroa destructor fears lessened by native bees and insects for some growers

Farmers who have ensured native bee populations are booming on their orchards are breathing a sigh of relief, with the insect immune from the biosecurity emergency involving a hive-killing mite.

Officials have already ordered the destruction of more than 300 hives in the in Newcastle area, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the the Varroa destructor — commonly called the varroa mite — with a second biosecurity zone announced for NSW’s Mid North Coast on Tuesday.

The biosecurity emergency could cost the honey bee industry $70 million, with the flow-on effects to the crops that use them for pollination still unknown.

Entomologist Tim Heard said so far the disaster was only affecting European honey bees.

“The biology of the mite, their life cycle and the way they feed on their host is very much in tune with their host and so we don’t believe that they can jump to other species, including our native bees,” he said.

That is a relief to some fruit and vegetable growers who have maintained stingless Australian bee populations on their farms.

Warren Yeomans grows a variety of fruit including cherries, apricots, peaches, plums, nectarines, apples and pears at his Armidale orchard in the NSW New England region.

Ripe cherries on the branch
Warren Yeomans relies on native bees to pollinate a variety of fruit.(ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)

He said his native bee population had thrived and as a result he had not needed honey bees to pollinate his crops.

“I’ve always been observing how many bees are about so I’m aware of trees that have bees in them and I keep an eye on them,” Mr Yeomans said.

“I’m reasonably confident that I’ll have enough local [bee] activity with the environment around me.”

Worker bees fly towards a nest.
Tetragonula carbonaria is one type of native bee used for pollination.(Supplied: Tobias Smith)

Macadamia pollinators

Macadamia growers in the NSW coastal region are also hopeful they will be able to turn to native bees for pollination.

With an array of other pollinator options to work with as well, Australian Macadamia Society chief executive Jolyn Burnett said his industry was in a more fortunate position than others.

“But we are still quite reliant on honey bees to make sure we get strong pollination and hence a good crop.”

Two long rows of macadamia trees
Macadamia growers say their industry is in a much better position than those that rely on honey bees.(ABC North Coast: Kim Honan)

Mr Burnett said coastal NSW macadamia orchards were often near bushland, which saw populations of various insects help pollinate crops.

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