By Jonathan Underhill
Jan. 4 (BusinessDesk) – Some beekeepers have pulled their hives out of kiwifruit orchards, concerned that sprays used to control the Psa vine-wilting bacteria are the latest hazard for an under-siege bee population.
“More than one beekeeper has withdrawn their hives,” said John Hartnell, honey exporter and bees spokesman at Federated Farmers. He wouldn’t put his own hives on a kiwifruit orchard, saying “that would destroy my business overnight.”
Former Green MP Sue Kedgley cites an unnamed Bay of Plenty beekeeper in a New Zealand Herald column as saying he had recently lost 230 of his beehives - half his operation. That beekeeper said he suspects a “cocktail” of pesticides and chemicals used in many kiwifruit orchards is to blame. Some desperate growers may even be using illegal chemicals to try to save their vines.
New Zealand has some 430,000 hives which contribute some $5 billion to the economy by way of pollinating crops, according to figures cited by Fed Farmers.
The bees are under threat from the Varroa mite and the more recently arrived Nosema ceranae disease, meaning New Zealand is missing only two of the four vectors that are likely to cause so-called colony collapse disorder. Australia has them – European foulbrood and Israeli acute paralysis virus – which is why local beekeepers oppose imports of Australian honey. In turn, Australia is trying to keep out the Varroa mite.
“The pollination of kiwifruit is very important to our industry,” Hartnell said. Still, “some beekeepers say the risk is too great,” especially to the export Manuka honey crop.
The antibiotic spray called streptomycin can be used by kiwifruit growers to control Psa though an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries resulted in 45 orchards being warned for using it illegally, the Herald reported in August.
Barry O’Neill, chief executive of Kiwifruit Vine Health, which is leading the industry response to Psa, says streptomycin is used under strict controls including no spraying in the week up to and including flowering.
“Streptomycin has been used now for two seasons as a result of Psa and we’ve found no evidence of antibody residues in hives,” O’Neill said. A small percentage of beekeepers had elected to withdraw from servicing kiwifruit orchards, he said.
Growers have reported no shortage of hives yet and Hartnell says there are probably enough beekeepers whose main business is pollination, rather than export honey, who are happy to keep supplying the growers.