NZ bee loss low, but needs attention – survey

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NEW Zealand’s honey bee population continues to grow – with queen problems, varroa mites, starvation and wasps the leading causes of bee loss, according to an annual survey.
Registered beehives in New Zealand total around 880,000.

“They’ve nearly doubled in six years, but there is still work to be done to protect bee health,” Agcarm chief executive Mark Ross said.

“Bees have a vital role to play in food production and agriculture.”

The Ministry of Primary Industries released findings of the 108 NZ Colony Loss and Survival Survey, showing that overall, losses averaged 10.2 percent.

“This loss is lower than overseas rates, but it shows that we need to address biosecurity, colony health and beekeeping practices to keep a healthy bee population,” Mr Ross said.

Colony deaths from queen problems accounted for more than a third of losses during the 2018 winter season. The parasitic varroa mite, which feeds on bees, accounted for almost 20 percent, followed by starvation and wasps.

Interestingly, average loss rates were three times higher among non-commercial beekeeping enterprises, suggesting that there is work to be done in this area.

Loss rates were highest in the upper North Island and middle South Island, with lowest rates in the lower North Island.

The challenges for beekeepers include competition for apiary sites and overcrowding, especially in the upper North Island.

“The report shows that we have to make sure our bees are well-fed and protected from pests. But, overall, our bee population is thriving – which is good news,” Mr Ross said.

He said the survey was critical not only because it informed Agcarm on bee health, but because it allowed also them to make better choices to protect the bee population and track changes on colony loss and survival for the future.

“Taking care when spraying around bees – or arranging for hives to be moved will help protect them,” he said.

As a champion of bees, Agcarm will continue to work with the bee industry, and the wider agriculture sector, to help ensure a healthy bee population.