Varroa mite outbreak sees millions of bees destroyed, keepers call for compensation

As authorities destroy millions of bees in a bid to control the New South Wales varroa mite outbreak, devastated apiarists are waiting to learn how they will be compensated.

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has already destroyed 600 hives across New South Wales, each containing up to 30,000 bees.

The bees are gassed or doused in petrol and left overnight before the hives are torched.

Amateur beekeeper Ebonnie Newby said it was a shocking situation.

“I can understand why it’s being done, but to be in the red zone — it’s pretty heartbreaking,” she said.

“I only have two hives, so for me, it’s just a hobby … but it’s devastating what’s happening.”

A man stands in a yard on a sunny day.
Roland Inman says his hives are worth about $1,000 each.(Supplied: Roland Inman)

Commercial apiarist Roland Inman said the measures would hurt many businesses.

“I’ve got 20 hives at Booral … and each hive has three boxes,” he said.

“[They are] brand new, so you’re looking at $1,000 with bees and frames, plus the queen for each one.”

Mr Inman is just outside the eradication zone, but fears he could soon lose his hives.

“You’re always wondering, ‘OK, where am I? When’s it my turn to lose everything?'” he said.

“I was planning to get up to 60 hives — we’ve got a brand, we’re selling our honey at the markets, we’re doing mail orders.

The gloved hands of people in hazmat suits applying petrol to a beehive.
Beehives are doused in fuel, left overnight and burnt.(Supplied: NSW DPI)

‘They can’t take the hit’

Mr Inman said it was difficult to watch the situation unfold.

“I’m not very happy at all and who would be?” he said.

“Who would be happy at the thought of anything up to $1,000,000 gone through no fault of your own?”

“Are we going to be issued with varroa mite strips so we can pre-emptively start managing for this, or at least doing damage control?

“Because many of the guys in the industry are old … so these are mostly old men at the end of their careers.

“They can’t take the hit.”

Mr Inman said he hoped communication from the Department of Primary Industries would be clearer.

“It would be nice to get updates,” he said.

“I would have thought that in the age of modern technology, I would have got a text message within two hours … they have everyone’s details who’s registered.

“I’ve had three emails, once a day.”

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Hundreds of beehives destroyed

Compensation to come

NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said compensation would be available for affected apiarists, but the details were still being worked out.

“We’re working very hard with industry to come up with a meaningful compensation package around how we can support beekeepers into the future,” he said.

“I’m meeting again with the federal Ag Minister to discuss how that looks from a Commonwealth perspective, but already meaningful discussions around what the industry expects and wants [are underway].”

A burnt rack with dead bees on it being pulled from a hive.
The Department of Primary Industries has burnt 600 hives so far.(Supplied: NSW DPI)

Mr Saunders said he understood how “difficult” the situation was for beekeepers.

“The concerning thing is that we’re actually affecting people’s livelihoods and we’re well aware of that,” he said.

“Everyone realises how important it is to get this right at the early stages, so we’re working very, very collaboratively to make sure that we’re representing all beekeepers in the state.”

Queensland and Victoria have become the latest states to ban bees, beehives and bee products such as honey from anywhere in NSW.

The announcements followed a similar order issued by South Australia on Wednesday.

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