A report prepared for the Australian beekeeping industry


 Diana M H Gibbs,  B Sc(Hons), M Env Stud 
 Ian F Muirhead,  B Agr Sc, M Agr Sc, PhD 

 February 1998



What is the overall size of the industry? 

How much are apiary products worth? 

What is the value of crop pollination provided by honey bees? 

Why is access to native forests on public land so important? 

Does access vary from state to state? 

What effects do honey bees have on native plants and animals? 

Can honey be used to kill bacteria? 

Finally, is the industry at risk from exotic pests and diseases? 



3.1 Summary 

3.2 Introduction 

3.3 Snapshot of industry dimensions 

3.4 Industry by State 

3.5 Industry by sector 

3.6 References 


4.2 Introduction 

4.3 Direct impact of industry - gross value of production 

4.3.1 By sector 

4.3.2 By State 

4.4 Other linked sectors - the indirect impact of industry 

4.4.1 Flow-on effects from beekeeping industry 

4.4.2 Supply industries 

4.5 Crop pollination services provided by honey bees 

4.6 Honey as a therapeutic agent 

4.7 Quarantine 

4.8 References 

5. CROP POLLINATION  5.1 Summary 

5.2 The need for pollination services 

5.3 Paid pollination services 

5.4 Assessments previously made of the value of unpaid pollination services 

5.5 A comprehensive approach to valuation of pollination services 

5.6 Value of pollination services in each State 

5.7 Validation of data 

5.8 References 


6.2 Introduction 

6.3 Public land as a resource base for migratory beekeeping 

6.4 Reliance on native flora on public land for floral resources, and the response of governments to the issue of access 

6.5 Pesticide-free refuges 

6.6 Maintaining hive strength 

6.7 Effects of excluding beekeeping from conserved areas 

6.8 References 


7.2 Background 

7.3 Scientific studies on the environmental effects of honey bees 

7.3.1 Competition studies 

Effects on native bees 

Effects on birds 

Effects on pollination of plants 

Effects on nesting sites 

7.4 The importance of measuring floral resources in ecological studies 

7.5. Why managed and feral honey bees must be distinguished 

Feral colonies 

7.6 Discussion 

7.7 References 



Beekeeping is a unique primary industry. It depends on floral resources - nectar and pollen - about 80% of which are produced from native flora. Much of this resource is on public land. It is produced irregularly and beekeepers must often follow the seasons and honeyflows, sometime over large distances, to be successful. The many skills required for beekeeping are learned by experience and often passed from generation to generation. 

The industry finds itself under increasing pressure on a number of fronts. The area of native forest is declining. Governments, responding to community pressure, are conserving more of what remains. Traditional access by beekeepers to conserved forests is being questioned because honey bees are not native to Australia, and beekeepers are being denied access to some of their most valuable floral resources. Also, the industry is under threat from a number of exotic pests which have caused extensive damage to honey bees overseas. Agriculture, while providing floral resources, also competes when land is cleared and chemicals are used on crops. 

In order to deal with these issues properly, the industry needs access to up-to-date information on its value and impacts. Although scattered widely, many of the facts and figures are available in existing reports and publications. This study brings the relevant information together in a useful form, and answers the following questions: 

What is the overall size of the industry?

Managed honey bees are found in all Australian states and territories. There are around 673,000 registered hives in Australia, producing not only honey and beeswax but also live bees (queens and package bees), and other products such as pollen and royal jelly. Around 467,000 hives are operated by beekeepers with a minimum of 200 hives, and these are considered to represent the commercial industry. It is estimated that an average of at least 30,000 tonnes of honey are produced each year in Australia, with nearly 45% of this total coming from beekeepers resident in NSW. Between 9,000 and 12,000 tonnes of honey are exported each year.

How much are apiary products worth?

The apiary industry has its economic impact via direct effects (the gross value of production), indirect effects (demand stimulated in linked sectors) and crop pollination services. The gross value of production over all sectors of the industry is estimated as being between $60 and $65 million per annum, of which $49 million comprises honey production. As expected from hive registration data, NSW beekeepers contribute around 44% of this total value of production. 

Major items of expenditure for the industry are labour and transport – with fuel being the largest single component of the latter. It is estimated that around 80% of income (turnover) is spent on costs of production, which means that much of the income generated by the sale of honey and other products remains in rural areas of Australia. Other supply sectors are located throughout Australia. 

What is the value of crop pollination provided by honey bees?

Some crops like almonds set very little fruit without insect pollination. Others like cucurbits and strawberries also require effective pollination by bees for fruit quality - shape and size. The benefits of crop pollination accrue to the agricultural sector and flow on to the entire Australian community. Previous estimates of a total value of paid and unpaid pollination of around $1.2 billion/year are supported by this study. Estimates of values to individual states vary from $60 - 251 million. Income from paid pollination services (although representing a minor part of this total estimated value) is important to individual beekeepers in every state, and this sector is expected to expand. 

Why is access to native forests on public land so important?

The apiary industry is heavily dependent on public land - state forests, national parks, other conserved forests, stockroutes etc - because it contains the majority of remaining native forest which provides most of the floral resource. It also provides much of the network of apiary sites which the industry needs to access to harvest the honey flows which occur irregularly and for short periods in respective districts. Native forests on public lands also provide the "safe harbour" and clean rehabilitation area needed to maintain and rebuild the strength and health of hives. 

Does access vary from state to state?

The response from government to the issue of access to resources on public land - particularly conserved areas - differs from state to state. In New South Wales, for example, access to national parks has been reduced drastically through government policy and the industry is very concerned about loss of important apiary sites. In other states like Victoria, access agreements, which do not compromise conservation objectives, have been reached and reflected in legislation. Overall, beekeepers are negotiating satisfactory agreements through industry consultative committees. These agreements need to be supported by legislation. Without reasonable access, the industry could not survive in its present form. 

What effects do honey bees have on native plants and animals?

The evidence so far suggests that the effects on insect pollinators and on competition with fauna for nesting hollows are either absent or minor. Some studies show that bird behaviour, seed set and pollination may be affected by honey bees under some circumstances - if the nectar resource is limiting. However no adverse effects of any kind have been demonstrated in studies where the resource is not limiting. This is important because the migratory commercial beekeeping industry seeks to operate in native forests including conserved areas under conditions of excess resource. 

Policy makers also need to distinguish between possible effects of feral and managed honey bee populations. Feral honey bees are uncontrolled, self-sustaining, ubiquitous and sometimes present in high numbers. Managed honey bees are moved regularly to harvest excess honeyflows and their numbers and location are controlled by beekeepers and public land managers. 

Can honey be used to kill bacteria?

The development of honey as a therapeutic agent is an exciting prospect for the industry in Australia. It has long been known that honey has anti-bacterial properties and is useful in the treatment of wounds, burns, ulcers and other complaints in humans. Researchers here and overseas are putting effort into developing treatments and understanding the factors which provide the anti-bacterial activity, and into assessing which honeys possess the most therapeutic values. 

Finally, is the industry at risk from exotic pests and diseases?

The industry is under significant threat from several exotic pests and diseases. Arguably the worst is the Varroa mite Varroa jacobsoni which originated on the Asian honey bee Apis cerana in the Indonesian Archipelago and transferred to the introduced European honey bee Apis mellifera. The mite spread westward into the Asian and European continents and has recently entered North America and the United Kingdom. It has decimated domestic and feral honey bee populations. Varroa has been found in the northern islands of the Torres Strait where it has been contained by strenuous quarantine action. 

The Honeybee Tracheal mite Acarapis woodii, Asian mite Tropilaelaps clareae and several lesser fungal and bacterial diseases should also be excluded. The Asian mite could be as severe as Varroa. The greatest economic impact of either of these mites would be on the agricultural and horticultural industries of Australia which depend on effective insect pollination for maximum production. 


Beekeeping is a unique primary industry. Its basic resources - nectar and pollen -are rarely owned by the beekeeper. Unlike other primary producers, beekeepers require virtually no land of their own. Beekeeping "land" takes the form of small apiary sites which are leased from private landholders or public authorities. Even large commercial beekeepers require and own only small rural allotments of 1 ha to 5 ha bordering substantial rural towns or cities. The economic base for beekeeping is held in highly depreciating materials such as hives and machinery and sheds. This contrasts starkly with land owning farmers who have, in the land, a stable or appreciating asset. 

Beekeeping requires an affinity with the land and a detailed knowledge of the complicated behaviour of the honey bee itself, the plants which provide the resource, nature conservation and agricultural production. One of the major skills in beekeeping is to know several months ahead the yield potential of favourable floral resources of nectar and pollen. This kind of knowledge is acquired largely by experience and is often passed from generation to generation. 

The industry finds itself under increasing pressure on a number of fronts. The Australian community is becoming more concerned about conservation of remaining forests and the Commonwealth and state governments are taking steps to conserve the resource for future generations. Traditional access by beekeepers to forests is being questioned and sometimes restricted because honey bees are not native to Australia. The industry is also under threat from a number of exotic pests and diseases which have caused extensive damage overseas. Agriculture, while often providing floral resources, also competes when floral resources are destroyed by land clearing and herbicide applications and when chemicals are applied to crops. 

Eucalypt woodland dieback, salting, pine plantations on public land, reduced flooding regimes on some major river systems and urban sprawl are additional factors contributing to pressures on the viability and flexibility of beekeeping in Australia. 

The federal and state organisations representing the interests of beekeepers must address these issues. This requires access to accurate and up-to-date information on the industry and its impacts. Much of this information is available in reports and publications produced by state departments, research organisations and the various industry sectors. However it is scattered widely. The aim of this study is to collect this information in a form which is useful to the industry and its stakeholders. The Federal Council of Australian Apiarists’ Associations has commissioned this study in order to provide a summary of information relevant to a discussion of the issues facing the beekeeping industry in Australia. 

The specific aims are to: 

    • provide a clear and concise overview of the size, nature, and economic role of the industry
    • provide economic information for use at the state level to negotiate state or regional agreements
    • provide an assessment of the ecological interactions involving bees in native forests.
The consultants commissioned to undertake this study collected information from the following sources: 
    • the Australian Bureau of Statistics
    • Federal Council of Australian Apiarists’ Associations (FCAAA), and state beekeeping associations
    • Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (Honey Bee Research and Development Committee)
    • honey packers
    • state and commonwealth departments of primary industry
    • the research community
    • individual beekeepers.
The consultants were aware that the amount of detailed information on production, value and dependence on forests would vary from state to state. It was also realised that state-based information on production and value would carry inherent anomalies because beekeepers residing in one state often gather honey from another and may also sell to an interstate packer. The extent of these inherent discrepancies is hard to quantify. It was also recognised that a significant but unmeasured amount of production does not pass through the hands of commercial packers. 

To overcome these anomalies, production was measured in different ways - from the ABS statistics, from voluntary levies paid on production, from the number of hives and average production per hive, and from the records of the major packers. 

The information on ecological effects is based on published reports. This issue has had a high profile in Australia and several major reviews have been prepared by individual researchers or commissioned by the (then) Australian Nature Conservation Agency. 

Published reports and industry estimates were used to estimate the value of pollination. This is a significant topic because it totally overshadows the value of production - by a factor of at least 20:1 - and is often overlooked when the total value of the industry is being considered. 

Although a great deal of information was available, the authors have sometimes been required to make estimates on the best data available. This report states when, how and why particular estimates were made. 

As time passes, more information will become available. The authors hope that this report will be a "living" document which can be updated to retain its usefulness for many years to come. 


3.1 Summary

Managed honey bees are found in all States of Australia, although little honey is produced from the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. A wide range of Australian flora produces good quantities of nectar, as do many exotic flora, including important food and pasture crops.

There are around 673,000 registered hives in Australia, producing not only honey and beeswax but also live bees (queens and package bees), and other products such as pollen and royal jelly. Around 467,000 hives are operated by beekeepers with a minimum of 200 hives, and these are considered to represent the commercial industry. It is estimated that an average of at least 30,000 tonnes of honey are produced each year in Australia, with nearly 45% of this total coming from NSW. Between 9,000 and 12,000 tonnes of honey are exported each year.

3.2 Introduction

The first successful introduction of honey bees (Apis mellifera) to Australia took place in 1822. Honey bees were able to provide settlers with the important food and food sweetener used by the people of the Old World for centuries. Honey bees were also used to pollinate crops, most of which were introduced. Australian flora were found to produce good quantities of nectar, and honey bees quickly naturalised throughout Australian native forest systems by the mid-1800’s. As the interior of the continent was opened up by settlers, they were able to draw stocks of honey bees from the feral population or obtain hives from beekeepers to establish small apiaries, and the Australian honey industry became established. 

There are currently around 673,000 registered hives in Australia, with an unknown number of hives estimated to be in use but not registered. Actual numbers vary from year to year, depending on seasonal conditions and relative price movements in the industry’s major products. These major products are : 

- honey 

- beeswax. 

In addition, specialised segments of the industry concentrate beekeeping activities towards the production of : 

- queen bees 

- package bees 

- the provision of specialist paid honey bee pollination services to Australian horticultural and agricultural industries. Queen bees and package bees are sold to other beekeepers both within Australia and overseas. Honey and beeswax are still produced by queen and package bee producers, but these products are not the prime goal of their beekeeping activities. Other minor products from the industry include : 

- pollen 

- royal jelly 

- propolis 

- bee venom. 

The economic dimensions of the industry, and the direct and indirect impacts that beekeeping has at a State and sector level, are discussed in Chapter 4. 

3.3 Snapshot of industry dimensions

Data on hive registrations provides an indication of the total size of the industry, which is summarised in the following Table 1. These data have been sourced from registration data held by most State regulatory bodies (generally the Departments of Agriculture, or equivalent). No data has been recorded for the Australian Capital Territory, nor for the Northern Territory, as the beekeeping industry is not considered to have a significant presence in either region. 

It is recognised that a number of hives are operated by part-time and "hobby" beekeepers, with total numbers of hives operated by these individuals being insufficient to support a full-time activity. This production may be significant. In Western Australia, for example, non-commercial beekeepers produce about 23% of the state’s honey production. This analysis has assumed that those beekeepers operating a minimum of 200 hives can be considered as "commercial" operators in the industry. 

 Table 1
Registered hives, Australia : by State

"Commercial" hives
Total hives



South Australia 

Western Australia 



Source : Departments of Agriculture in all States except Tasmania
Tasmanian data from the industry (Tasmanian Beekeepers’ Association)

An assessment has been made of the total production of the industry, drawing on a number of sources, to provide an indication of the dimensions of beekeeping activity in Australia. 

i)  Based on ABS data : data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicates total production of honey of just under 19,000 tonnes in 1994/95.  However, these data are gathered only from beekeepers operating more than 320 hives, which excludes at least one-third of production.  Industry opinion is that the ABS data has long been at variance with data compiled by the Australian Horticultural Corporation (AHC), which is based on levies paid (see below).  Production data from this source is therefore only partial, and must be considered as very conservative. 

ii) Based on levies paid : Beekeepers pay a research levy on honey production to the (Federal) Department of Primary Industries and Energy. Production must be above a minimum level (600 kg per annum) before the levy is payable - although a levy is paid on smaller quantities if supplied to a packer.  In 1995/96, total levies were paid on the production of around 26,000 tonnes of honey.  In addition to production below the minimum level, it is acknowledged that levies are not paid on all honey production, either because hives are not registered and/or because not all production is declared for the purposes of levy assessment.  Assuming that 12% to 15% more honey is produced (industry estimate) than is subject to levy, then total levy payments could suggest total production in the order of 29,000 to 30,000 tonnes, as a minimum. 

iii) Based on honey receivals : the largest honey packer in Australia, Capilano, is reported to account for around 67% of all sales of honey in Australia (Capilano, personal communication).  Total honey receivals by Capilano in 1996 (Capilano data provided) were just under 20,000 tonnes - which suggests total Australian production could be in the order of 31,000 tonnes. 

iv) Based on numbers of hives : Production can be estimated from the number of hives and production per hive. Larger commercial operators would expect to produce significantly higher volumes of honey per hive per year than the non-commercial operators, with figures from Western Australia (Manning 1992)  putting average production at 27% to 60% higher for commercial operators on public land and private property respectively.  Commercial operators are reported to produce up to 145 kg of honey per hive per year (Manning 1992).  Figures from the Queensland beekeeping industry (personal communication) indicate that 5-year average production levels of 75 kg per hive per year can be expected. 

Based on the number of commercial hives (i.e., those operated by beekeepers with more than 200 hives), and assuming that average annual production per hive is around 70 kg, then total production of honey in Australia is around 32,675 tonnes.  If production per hive averages 80 kg, then total honey annual production would be in the order of 37,335 tonnes.  If all hives (commercial and hobby) are assumed to produce 50 kg of honey per year, then total honey production in Australia could be around 33,627 tonnes. 

This comparison would suggest that honey production in Australia is at least 30,000 tonnes per annum.  While the number of hives could well vary from year to year, variation will also occur in average production levels per hive (depending on seasonal conditions), so that actual honey production in any one year could well be above or below this estimate.  Data from Capilano indicates that although there is some fluctuation between total receivals from year to year (in response to changing seasonal conditions), average levels of production over the last twenty years have remained fairly constant. 

The use of hive numbers as the basis for the assessment of honey production would appear to be justified by other possible derivations of production. This estimate can be considered conservative, with actual production likely to be higher because 

-   annual production levels per hive of just 70 kg have been used - actual production levels of up to 130 kg have been reported by some producers, and it is considered that an average of 100 kg could be achieved by most commercial operators.  In Western Australia, annual hive production levels of 200 kg are quite common (Manning 1996). 

-   the large number of unregistered hives, and the fact that all production from beekeepers with less than 200 hives, has been excluded from the assessment. 

Given these conservative assumptions, it is possible that total production of honey in Australia could be higher than the 32,000 tonnes per annum figure quoted.  If less conservative assumptions are made, then total production could even be in the order of : 

-   47,000 tonnes, if an average of 70 kg is produced by all registered hives, which still excludes production from unregistered hives 

-   53,000 tonnes, if all commercial operators produce an average of 100 kg per hive, with the other hives producing an average amount 30 kg each, still excluding production from unregistered hives. 

This analysis has therefore used an estimate of annual production of around 32,675 tonnes of honey, based on hive numbers (those operated by beekeepers with more than 200 hives) and an annual average production per hive of 70 kg. 

3.4  Industry by State

Use of data on the number of hives as a source of estimates of total honey production can then be used to derive estimates of production from each State of Australia.  Table 2 indicates a conservative estimate of total production of honey, by State. 

 Table 2
 Honey production, Australia : by State
 (tonnes per annum)

Honey production
Share total (%)



South Australia 

Western Australia 



New South Wales is clearly the largest single source of honey in Australia. However, as described in Chapter 4, the beekeeping industry in other States is also significant, in terms of the direct and indirect economic impact generated. 

3.5 Industry by sector

The overall apiary industry should be considered in terms of a number of sectors, as follows : 

i) Honey and wax producers. This is the sector generally considered when "beekeeping" is discussed. As outlined above, it is estimated that total production of honey in Australia is around 32,675 tonnes per annum. With a fairly constant relationship between honey and beeswax production (assumed at 1 kg wax for every 60 kgs honey - industry sources, personal communication), this suggests a total annual production of beeswax in Australia of around 545 tonnes. To the extent that honey production estimates are conservative, then these estimates of total beeswax production will also be conservative. Other researchers (e.g., Manning 1992) have suggested that the ratio between honey and wax production in W.A. is 1 kg wax per 34.5 kg honey (or even higher depending on extraction techniques used). Extrapolating a 1:34.5 ratio to the Australian industry would suggest that total beeswax production in Australia could be up to 950 tonnes. 

ii) Queen and package bee producers. In commercial honey production, the usual practice is to replace the queen bee in a hive every eighteen months. While half of the total replacement queen requirement is usually met by breeding within the commercial operation, the remaining queens are purchased from specialist breeders. On this basis, and assuming a total population of 467,000 commercial hives (see Table 1), an annual demand for around 155,670 queen bees each year can be estimated. In addition, specialist operators provide entire colonies, termed package bees, for supply to producers who require re-stocking - with most demand for package bees now coming from overseas markets. 

iii) Honey packers. Most commercial honey producers are contracted to supply annual volumes of honey to major packers. In Australia, the major packer is Capilano Honey Limited (Capilano). The estimated market share of the national grocery honey market is : 

Capilano brands 41.7% 

Leabrook Farms 10.6% 

Other brands 8.3% 

Housebrand/generics 39.4%

(source: Capilano Honey Ltd Annual report 1996)

The two principal packers also provide the majority of the generic products. Capilano’s share of the total domestic market is in the order of 67%. The two major packers also export an increasing volume of honey to overseas markets - both in bulk, and in retail packs. Around 10% of Capilano’s total revenue came from retail packed exports in 1996, with strong growth in this sector during the year. 

iv) Exports. Exports of Australian honey are an important segment of the total market, as indicated in Table 3. Exports of honey have averaged over 10,000 tonnes per annum over recent years, representing between 25% and 30% of estimated total production. 

Table 3
Exports of Honey and Beeswax, Australia

Exports Honey (tonnes)
Exports Beeswax (tonnes) 
1996/97 (e)

(e) estimated annual total, on basis of 10-month data from July 96 to April 97. 
 Source : ABS 

It is clear that the Australian bee-keeping industry has a major presence in all States of Australia. 

Economic impacts generated by support activities, and as a result of services provided by the apiary industry, are outlined in Chapter 4.  Chapter 5 outlines the economic impacts generated as a result of the pollination services provided by managed honey bees. 
 3.6  References 

ABS (1994/95)  Australian production of honey (volume and value), by States, Unpublished data purchased from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra. 

Capilano Annual Report, 1996.  Capilano Honey Limited, Brisbane. 

Manning, R (1992). Honey production, economic value and geographical significance of apiary sites in Western Australia.  Final Report for the Honeybee Research and Development Council Project DAW 3H. 

Manning, R (1996).  Evaluation of the Western Australia queen bee breeding program.  Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 36 - 513 -518. 

4.1  Summary 
The apiary industry has an economic impact via direct effects (the gross value of production), indirect effects (demand stimulated in linked sectors) and crop pollination effects.  The gross value of production over all sectors of the industry is estimated as being between $60 and $65 million per annum, of which $49 million comprises honey production.  As expected from hive registration data (Chapter 3), NSW contributes around 44% of this total value of production. 

Major items of expenditure for the industry are labour and transport – with fuel being the largest single component of the latter.  It is estimated that around 80% of income (turnover) is spent on costs of production, which means that much of the income generated by the sale of honey and other products remains in rural areas of Australia.  Other supply sectors are located throughout Australia. 

Pollination services are provided by honey bees.  Some services are paid for, but overall this source of income for beekeepers is very minor when compared to income from honey and other products.  The total value of pollination services incidentally provided by bees, which is very much larger than the price paid for such services, is discussed in detail in Chapter 5.  The level of pollination services provided by industry to agriculture and horticulture is expected to increase significantly. 

The development of honey as a therapeutic agent is an exciting development which could help the industry in Australia in the future.  It has long been known that honey has anti-bacterial properties and is useful in the treatment of  wounds, burns, ulcers and other complaints in humans. Researchers here and overseas are putting effort into developing treatments and understanding the factors which provide the anti-bacterial activity. 

Several exotic pests and diseases pose significant threats to the economic well-being of the industry. Probably the worst is the Varroa mite which is carried on an Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) which has been found in the Torres Strait and is being excluded now by quarantine action.  Varroa mites would be expected to decimate feral honey bee populations and reduce the profitability of managed honey bees, as it has done in north America and Europe.  Pollination of crops - worth in the order of $1.2 billion - would be severely affected. There are also other mites, fungal and bacterial diseases which should be excluded. 

4.2  Introduction 
The apiary industry in Australia has an economic impact that consists of : 

i) the gross value of production generated by the industry.  This production provides the direct economic role of the industry, and is often considered as the sole source of economic impact.  The gross value of production includes not only the value of honey produced, but also the value of beeswax, queen and package bees, and other products such as pollen, royal jelly, bee venom, and propolis. 

ii) the stimulation of demand from other linked (mainly supply) sectors.  This type of impact is often referred to as the multiplier, or “flow-on” effect, and includes the value of output (and employment, wages, value-added, etc.,) that is produced by all sectors either providing goods and services to the beekeeping industry, or receiving goods and services from the industry. 

iii) the crop pollination services provided by honey bees.  Many agricultural sectors, particularly those involved in the production of horticultural commodities such as fruit, depend heavily on insect pollination to maximise yields.  Some pollination services are paid, with beekeepers receiving income from placing hives adjacent to flowering crops.  While some honey may also be obtained (e.g., from clovers), this is not often the case - in crops such as fruit and nut trees, no honey is obtained..  However, the large majority of pollination services are unpaid (incidental pollination), and represent a beneficial externality derived from beekeeping activities. 

Each of these three types of impact is outlined in this chapter.  Further discussion on the impacts of the beekeeping industry which are imparted via the pollination services provided is presented in Chapter 5. 

4.3  Direct impact of industry - gross value of production 
4.3.1 By sector 
i) Honey.  Honey is the prime output of commercial beekeepers, and is produced by bees from plant nectar.  It is conservatively estimated that total production of honey in Australia could have a “farm gate” value (i.e., total returns derived by beekeepers) of around $ 50 million per annum (1996 figures).  This gross value of production estimate is derived from the following assumptions: 

- total annual production of around 32,000 tonnes (which has been demonstrated in Chapter 3 to be conservative), and 

- an average price received of $1.50/kg honey in all States except Tasmania, where an average price of $2.00/kg is received, reflecting the higher value of leatherwood honey produced in that State.  This average value of $1.50/kg can be compared to published figures such as ABS export unit values in 1995/96 (ABS trade data) of $2.07/kg, and $2.40/kg in 1996/97 (estimate based on 10 month data).  However, these unit values are assumed to include a component for transport and packing, so that farm-gate values would be lower.  Data from Capilano (Annual Report, 1996) indicate that the average price paid for honey received in 1996 was $1.50/kg, and $1.29 in 1995.  The ABS production data, while acknowledged as under-reporting total production, indicates an average unit value of $1.31 for Australia in 1994/95 - which is close to the Capilano 1995 figure.  The ABS data also indicates that average prices received in Tasmania were higher than other States, at $2.01/kg. 

 Farm gate average values for honey in 1997 may be higher than $1.50/kg, which would suggest that gross value of production from the honey sector could be higher than $49 million. 

ii) Beeswax.  Beeswax is a substance secreted by the worker bees.  It is recovered by beekeepers primarily from honey comb cappings, and also from cull combs and wax pieces.  Beeswax is used in certain pharmaceutical and cosmetic preparations, as a base for polishes and some ointments, for candles - and for comb foundation for beekeeping.  It has the highest melting point of natural waxes, and can be sold in either the raw or refined form.  Commercial beeswax is generally refined for sale by a manufacturer of apiary products.  Production of beeswax is closely related to honey production, and Australia produces a surplus which is exported.  Australian beeswax is reported (industry sources) to command premium prices on the world market, because of its freedom from adulteration and chemical residues. 

 As indicated in Chapter 3, it has been estimated that total output of beeswax in Australia is around 545 tonnes per annum.  The ABS production data indicates a unit value for this production of around $4.33/kg. for 1994/95, but industry opinion is that this average should be assumed at $6.00/kg for 1996 (Queensland Beekeepers’ Association).  Applying this unit value to the assumed production volume suggests a total Australian farm-gate value of $3.3 million for beeswax. 

iii) Live bees.  The production of queen bees, and of entire colonies of bees, is the main diversification available to beekeepers.  The queen bee industry is dependent on the existence of a profitable honey industry in Australia, and on an export market to buy queens at a period when little or no sales are available in Australia.  The Australian market tends to be active in the spring period between early September and the middle of November, with spasmodic demand through to the end of March.  Overseas countries tend to require queens over a longer period, from December to May/June.  As outlined in Chapter 3, Australian demand for queen bees is estimated at around 155,670 per annum - at an average price of $9/queen, this represents a farm-gate value of around $1.5 million.  This is a conservative figure because export sales - estimated by industry sources to be $0.75 million - are not recorded separately and have not been added.  Live bee exports is a potential growth area for the Australian beekeeping industry, as further markets develop. 

 Package bees and nucleus colonies are other forms of live bee production, and are sold both within Australia and overseas.  Again, data on total value of production for this sector of the industry is not available, and has been estimated on the basis of known production.  The total value of this sector has been assumed to be $2.25 million, which is almost certainly an under-estimate, but which has been used as a conservative minimum 

iv) Other products.  In addition to honey and wax, active beehives are also a source of other products.  These include : 

- Royal Jelly - a milky white smooth jelly secreted by nurse bees, used to feed developing queen larvae and young worker bee larvae.  The production of royal jelly is a very specialised procedure, and flora conditions must be ideal before production can be considered.  Royal jelly is used as tablets, or mixed into creams and shampoos.  Most royal jelly sold in Australia is imported, either in bulk (which is often re-packed for export) or pre-packed.  Very few beekeepers produce royal jelly for re-sale, as the imported product is much cheaper. 

- Propolis - a by-product of the bee hive.  It originates as a gum secretion gathered by bees from a variety of plants, and can vary in colour depending on the plant species of origin.  Propolis has remarkable therapeutic qualities, and is much sought after in some countries for the treatment of a range of human ailments, and for cosmetic purposes.  It is used by honey bees as an antiseptic to varnish the interior of honey comb cells used by the hive to rear young brood, to seal cracks in the hive from the winter chill, and for general hive cleanliness purposes.  Propolis is extensively harvested by beekeepers in Europe.  Few Australian beekeepers engage in the commercial production of propolis, although a potential exists, because the practice is time-consuming.  The primary focus of Australian apiarists remains the more rewarding production of honey and related products such as beeswax. 

- Bee venom - collected by stimulating bees with a mild electric current.  The venom is processed, and used in the preparation of pharmaceutical materials.  It can be used to detect hypersensitivity or allergic reaction to bee stings.  It is not currently produced in Australia, but is imported (mainly from Romania). 

- Pollen - can also be harvested by beekeepers, at a rate of around 7-10 kgs per hive per year.  Pollen is used by bee colonies as a source of protein, but harvesting pollen by the beekeeper requires detailed knowledge of resources, hive management, species flowering variations and timing, and hive response to different honeys and pollens.  Pollen is collected via specialised traps fitted to the hives, and must be processed rapidly after collection (usually via freezing or drying) to avoid excessive moisture absorption and fermentation.  Many beekeepers harvest pollen to feed back to their hives during periods of natural pollen deficiency. 

The commercial production of these products is not widely undertaken in Australia.  Based on industry comment, it has been assumed that the total value of production from this sector is in the order of $0.3 million per annum. 

v) Paid pollination services.  Some beekeepers receive payment for placing hives in close proximity to flowering crops, according to contractual arrangements with farmers. Rates for pollination services in inland Australia varied between $25 and $35 per hive in 1996, with variations between crops.  Some rates in W.A. (W.A.A.F.) have been reported as high as $78 per hive for 1997.  It has been estimated that at least $2.9 million is received by the industry in this way, based on total payments received for pollination services in Tasmania (Gifford, 1989), and multiplied up to an Australian figure by numbers of hives. 

However, this is likely to be a significant underestimation, as other States such as South Australia depend heavily on bee pollination (and pay for such services) for clover and lucerne seed production, as well as for fruit production.  Estimates prepared in S.A. (industry) indicate that paid pollination services could amount to as much as $4.7 million per year.  As discussed in Chapter 5, the total value of all pollination services is considerably larger than the above estimate of direct income received from such services. 

As a result of this total production, the direct impact of the beekeeping industry in Australia is likely to be in the order of at least $60 million.  This is based on 1996 data – the total gross value of production could possibly be higher than this in 1997, as a result of movements in honey prices, and an increase in rates paid for pollination services. In a recent paper, Gill (1997) provides an estimate of $65 million for the total direct income value of the honey industry in Australia.  However, this (1996) estimate correlates reasonably well with the RIRDC estimate of a total value of $55 million for the industry (RIRDC, Program Plans and Guidelines for Researchers, 1997-98). It should be noted that this estimate relates to the gross (farm gate) value of production, and excludes the value-added component introduced by packers and retailers. 

It has been concluded that the direct economic impact of the honey industry is therefore between $60 and $65 million per annum.  When the significance of paid pollination services in South Australia is taken into consideration, the higher estimate of $65 million would appear well justified. 

The following Table 4 summarises the components of this total, as described in the preceding discussion of the value of output from each of the defined sectors of the industry. 

Table 4
Value of production: Australia
(All sectors of the industry)
Value of Production
( million/yr.)
Honey (including comb sales) 


Live bees 

Other products 

Paid pollination services 


$ 3.3
$ 3.8
$ 0.3
$ 2.9

4.3.2 By State

Having prepared an estimate of the total value of production (and thus direct impact) for the beekeeping industry in Australia, an estimate has then been made of the share of this total production contributed by each State. 

This estimate is based on honey production, which in turn (see Chapter 3) is based on the numbers of hives in each State. Total honey production accounts for more than 80% of the total direct impact of the industry, and so is by far the largest single component. As indicated in Chapter 3, the greatest number of hives is in NSW, and so the greatest value of production is also from NSW. 

Table 5
Value of industry production, Australia : by State
Honey production
($ mill./yr.)
Total value of production ($ mill./yr.)



South Australia 

Western Australia 



However, the contribution of the different states, as shown in Table 5, thus represents the State of registration of hives. Actual production values which can be attributed to each State may be very different, as : 

- bees in border areas may access floral resources from across a border 

- honey from one State may be packed and/or processed in another State. 

A brief comment on the industry in each State follows : 

New South Wales. Nearly 45% of all Australian honey production comes from New South Wales. In value terms (given the higher average value attributed to Tasmanian honey), NSW accounts for a slightly lower share - but is still by far the largest single State in terms of the overall value of the industry. Table 5 has indicated that the direct impact of the industry in NSW is nearly $27 million. As indicated in Chapter 5, paid pollination services are also important in NSW, with extensive fruit and vegetable production, as well as seed production, in certain areas of the State.

Queensland. The honey bee industry is considered as important to Queensland, not only for its annual production of honey and beeswax, but also for improving pollination of high value crops. The DPI has estimated that the industry has a direct impact of around $4 million, whereas the Queensland Beekeepers’ Association has estimated a total farm gate value of over $14 million (including paid pollination services), but with both estimates excluding unpaid pollination benefits. For the purposes of this study, a total value of just over $10 million has been assessed for the direct impact of the industry in Queensland - also excluding unpaid pollination services. 

Victoria. The study has assessed the total value of the industry in Victoria at around $9.5 million. This is much the same level as has been assessed for Queensland, and is much lower than NSW. However, given the importance of the fruit industry (including citrus) to Victoria, the unpaid pollination services provided by the beekeeping industry would provide a greater economic impact than this direct impact would suggest. 

South Australia. The South Australian industry produces around 13% of all honey produced in Australia. Surveys within the State (Dept. Primary Industry, S.A.) have indicated that there are 53 beekeepers who own more than 500 hives, and 870 with fewer than 200 hives. Again, crop pollination services provided by managed bees are considered to be the most important economic value of the industry, with crops such as almonds, lucerne, vegetable seeds, and stone and pome fruits relying on pollination by bees. The DPI (SA) estimates the value of honey production at between $4.2 million and $7.3 million per annum, depending on season, which is consistent (as a range) with this study’s estimate of $6.3 million for honey (and comb) production. However, the SA industry estimates that a total of $4.7 million is paid for pollination services provided by managed honey bees in the State. This would be additional to the estimate for honey production, suggesting a total output figure of $12 million for the industry in this State. 

Western Australia. Honey prices and hive production in Western Australia are not considered likely to increase markedly in coming years. However, the apiculture industry in the State is considered (by Agriculture W.A.) to have the opportunity to improve its performance through the production of high quality, disease free products, and by diversifying into the production of package bees, and pollination services to benefit the horticulture and oilseeds industries and improve returns to beekeepers. This study has estimated the total value of production of the WA industry at $4.7 million

Tasmania. Forestry Tasmania has recognised bee-keeping is an important industry in Tasmania, as set out in the Forestry Tasmania document "Guidelines to facilitate Apiculture on State Forest" (1994). This study has estimated that the industry produced output of around $1.5 million for the State. There are likely to be close links between the honey industry and tourism in Tasmania, with the State’s production of leatherwood honey catering to a "boutique" segment of the market. Given the higher prices paid for leatherwood honey, and the importance of paid pollination services in the State, the total value of the Tasmanian industry is likely to be considerably higher than this estimate. 

4.4 Other linked sectors - the indirect impact of industry

It is generally acknowledged that any economic activity will have impacts wider than the sector within which the activity itself takes place, as a result of the demand for goods and services generated by the activity in question, and of the consumption expenditure which results from employees disposing of their wages. This inter-relationship between different sectors of the economy creates the so-called multiplier or "flow-on" effect. 

Research undertaken for this study has not been able to identify any assessments which have been made to quantify this relationship between activity in the beekeeping industry and the wider economy. As a result, it is not possible to provide any numeric estimate of the indirect impact that the industry might have on the wider economy. However, it is possible to prepare some estimates of the likely magnitude of some of the flow-on effects from operations of the industry, with such estimates being presented in section 4.4.1 below. It is also possible to outline some of the sectors which receive the most direct impact from activities within the industry, in terms of purchases of supply materials, as presented in section 4.4.2. 

4.4.1 Flow-on effects from beekeeping industry

Various studies have examined the costs involved in a commercial beekeeping operation. These include : 

- An economic survey of the Honey Industry in Victoria, 1980-81 (RIRDC) 

- National Workshop on Economic Viability of the Australian Beekeeping Industry (HBRDC, 1991) - various papers relating to production costs. 

- Investing in Commercial Honey production : The 4th. Mansfield report (1996), Tamworth branch, NSWAA.

It would appear that cash costs (i.e., expenditure on goods and services required to produce honey, excluding capital) involved represent between 75% and 80% of total income. On this basis, and using the total value of production (honey only) assessed in section 4.1 as $49 million, then it can be assumed that between $36 million and $40 million is spent by the industry on the various costs involved in honey production. This is a significant cash injection, occurring mainly in rural areas of regional Australia. 

All these studies concluded that transport (including fuel) and labour are the most significant components of costs. This has been confirmed by interviews conducted with selected individual beekeepers conducted during the course of this study. The next largest category of expenditure is equipment required to process honey. Expenditure on transport and labour could comprise around $30 to $35 million per annum, all of which would be spent in the rural regions where the industry is based. The beekeeping industry is therefore making a substantial contribution to economic activity in such rural areas of Australia. 

4.4.2 Supply industries

There are a number of specialist industries which operate solely (or predominantly) to supply requisites to the beekeeping industry. While not a part of the industry per se, the supply industries would not be operating in their current form were it not for the activities of the beekeeping industry. While not quantified as a part of the beekeeping industry, their existence is certainly a part of the indirect economic impact generated by the industry. This "supply" sector includes : 

i) Beehive manufacturers - while only small in number, companies manufacturing hives for the industry tend to specialise in this activity. Most hives used in Australia are manufactured domestically, although a small number are imported from New Zealand. 

ii) Extractor/uncapping machinery - any company skilled in the production of stainless steel equipment for the food industry would be capable of manufacturing the machinery required to "uncap" combs, and extract honey. However, Australian operators tend to have specialised in the manufacture of equipment for the beekeeping industry - such as Bee Quip in W.A., Blenkiron, Vic., Superior Bee Supplies, Qld and Penders in NSW. 

iii) Packers' equipment - bottles and bottling equipment are required by packers. In addition, drum manufacturers provide the special galvanised drum, made with side bung, that is not generally available from other sources for producers and packers. A gradual change to plastic drums is taking place, with intermediate bulk containers, of pallet size being used which hold more honey than do the traditional drums. 

iv) Heat source - every honey producer requires a steam or hot water boiler to generate steam, and hot water, for processing honey and wax. While not requiring a specialised manufacturing activity, the beekeeping industry generates a demand for such equipment. 

v) Transport/handling equipment - all commercial beekeepers must purchase trucks and utilities for transporting and servicing hives. Many also own bob-cats and/or front end loaders for loading hives, on pallets, and loading drums or use other forms of mechanisation. 

vi) Other equipment - beekeepers also have a need for other equipment such as electric generators, caravans, and mobile extracting units. While the first two items (as for heat sources) do not require a specialised manufacturing activity, expenditure by the beekeeping industry can provide an important source of demand. 

vii) Quality Assurance - beekeepers and packers are increasingly introducing quality assured premises and equipment for handling honey, as a food product for human consumption. Again, this is not necessarily a specialised activity unique to the industry, but represents an additional demand for existing services.

It is clear that a considerable amount of other economic activity is generated within Australia as a result of the activities of the honey bee industry.

4.5 Crop pollination services provided by honey bees

Chapter 5 sets out a detailed discussion on the value of the (unpaid) pollination services provided by managed bees, as a result of the operations of the beekeeping industry. However, this assessment of the economic role of the industry would be incomplete without reference to the dimensions of this impact, as assessed by others. 

Much of the Australian assessment in this area has been conducted by Gill, who has produced many papers on this subject (see bibliography). Gill acknowledges the difficulties inherent in preparing an assessment of these pollination values, but has concluded that the value to society of the pollination services market as it is currently structured in Australia is likely to range between $605.84 million and $1.21 billion per annum (estimates as at 1989). This figure represents the increased value of crop production resulting from the pollination activities of honey bees – over and above the value of production that would occur in the absence of this pollination activity. 

The industry, working with various Government agencies, has prepared some estimates at a State level. The basis for these estimates, and the considered opinion developed as a result of this study, are also presented in Chapter 5. These State estimates range as follows : 

In Tasmania, the value of agricultural crops using pollination services provided by apiarists has been estimated to be $111 million annually. In South Australia and Victoria, the estimates of the "true value" of the apiary industry to agriculture are $100 million and $145 million respectively. 

Other States have yet to prepare an equivalent assessment of the value added to agricultural and horticultural production as a result of the incidental pollination activities of honey bees. 

Chapter 5 presents a summary of a consistent approach, across all States of Australia, together with a description of the rationale used to prepare this overall assessment. 

In summary, Gill’s estimate of a figure ranging up to $1.21 billion provides an indication of the very important economic role of the beekeeping industry at the national level. 

4.6 Honey as a therapeutic agent

Developing extra uses for apiary products could assist the development of the beekeeping industry. One of the more interesting features of honey is that it has anti-bacterial properties. It has well-established uses in ancient and traditional medicine, and is now being re-discovered as a treatment for wounds, burns, skin ulcers and gastroenteritis. There are reports that inflammation, swelling and pain are reduced and that wounds heal more quickly with minimal scarring. The international research community is investigating these reports and conducting laboratory and clinical tests to develop the technology for use in medical practice. 

The anti-bacterial activity of honey is due to several factors including water content, acidity and a natural antibacterial agent called hydrogen peroxide which is formed by enzyme activity in the honey. However different honeys vary greatly in their anti-bacterial activity, depending mainly on the floral source. The more anti-bacterial honeys appear to have at least one additional natural factor which is not fully understood. Research is being concentrated on these active honeys and how they work. 

Manuka honey from a species of Leptospermum (L scoparium) in New Zealand has a high anti-bacterial activity. In Australia, recent work funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and the honey bee industry has confirmed that several Australian honeys have activities similar to Manuka. This work is continuing. These are exciting developments for the beekeeping industry and medicine alike, particularly if antibiotic-resistant bacteria like golden staph can be controlled. 

4.7 Quarantine

Most of Australia’s crops and livestock, including honey bees, were introduced with European settlement within the last 200 years. While many pests and diseases arrived at the same time or have appeared since, we are still free of many serious exotic problems. As an island continent, Australia has a better-than-average chance of maintaining its disease-free status which affects both production costs and export markets. However we remain vulnerable, particularly from the near north, as the recent entry of several exotic horticultural pests demonstrates. 

Several threats face beekeepers in Australia now. The worst is probably Varroa mite (V. jacobsoni) which is carried on Asian honey bees Apis cerana and European honey bees A. mellifera to the immediate north of Australia. Apis cerana was tracked by Australian quarantine authorities as it moved from Irian Jaya through Papua New Guinea into Torres Strait at the rate of several hundred kilometres per year. Swift action by both the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service and the beekeeping industry contained the incursion to the most northern Islands of the Torres Strait region. 

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) in PNG carry another exotic mite - the Asian mite Tropilaelaps clareae - which may well cause as much damage as Varroa. Both mites attack honey bee adults and larvae. Both honey bees to Australia’s north also carry the serious tracheal mite Acarapis woodii which is still exotic to Australia. 

The potential for damage by exotic mites can be judged by recent experience in North America. Varroa and the tracheal mite Acarapis woodii are decimating honey bees in an incursion which has been sweeping north from Florida since about 1987. One report estimates the death of almost all feral honey bees and about 60 percent of managed bees from mites. A pollination crisis of some magnitude is occurring in North America as a result. If the feral and managed honey bee population in Australia should become decimated by exotic mites, the effect on agriculture would be dramatic because of the loss of pollination services. Chapter 7 indicates the benefit of pollination to Australia to be in the order of $1.2 billion per year. 

Another problem is that the chemicals used for mite control could compromise Australia’s reputation as a supplier of "clean" honey and beeswax products. 

Yet another threat is the African honey bee, Apis mellifera scutellata, a honey bee subspecies which is notoriously aggressive. It crosses readily with the European honey bee producing Africanised offspring which are also unacceptably aggressive. 

Although European Foul Brood (Melissococcus pluton) was first identified in 1977 and chalk brood (Ascosphaeraapis) in 1993, there are still other exotic diseases which are absent from Australia. The industry is concerned that these diseases and other pests like mites and African honey bees could be introduced illegally with queens, packaged bees or leaf-cutting bees. Also, Australia has an eradication program for American Foul Brood (Paenibacillus larvae) which could be compromised by contaminated imported honey

4.8 References

Gifford, D. (1989) Tasmanian Pollination Industry. Paper presented at Seminar organised by Department of Primary Industry, Tasmania, and Tasmanian Beekeepers’ Association. Hobart and Deloraine (Tasmania), 19 and 20 September, 1989. 

Gill, R (1997) Beekeeping and Secure Access to Public Land – how it benefits the industry and society. A report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and the Honeybee Industries Research and Development Council of Australia. RIRDC Research Paper Series no 97/16. 

Manning, R (1992) Honey production, economic value and geographical significance of apiary sites in Western Australia. Final Report for the Honeybee Research and Development Council Project DAW 3H. 


5.1 Summary

This chapter provides an assessment of the benefits derived from pollination services provided by honey bees. These benefits are represented by the value of agricultural production that occurs because of pollination by bees. For some crops (such as almonds) very little fruit would set without bee pollination, while for others, production would still occur without bees, but quality and yield are increased as a result of bee pollination. High seed set through adequate fertilisation of multi-seeded fruit provides a beneficial effect on fruit size and shape. The benefits of bee pollination accrue to the agricultural sector, and via their direct value (domestic and export), flow-on effects, and the utility value of food and fibre produced, to the entire Australian community. Approaches to estimating the Australia-wide benefit of pollination are reviewed, and equivalent estimates for the value of pollination in each State, based on this approach, are presented. 

Estimates of around $1.2 billion, based on studies published by Gill in 1989, have generally been accepted as representing the pollination benefits for Australia as a whole. The bee industry in some States has worked with relevant Departments of Agriculture to prepare their own estimates of pollination values. Using a consistent approach over all States, this study has demonstrated that : 

  • a total pollination value of around $1.2 billion would appear appropriate for Australia, using 1994/95 production value data, and listing only those crops for which production data are available. This estimate includes the pollination value contributed by bees to crops such as cotton, which are only partially dependent on bee pollination for production.
  • comparable and consistent estimates can be prepared for individual States. If cotton is excluded, these range from $251 million in Victoria to $60 million in Tasmania. The inclusion of cotton causes values for pollination benefits to increase significantly in NSW and Queensland, to $347 million and $299 million respectively.

5.2 The need for pollination services

In the context of this examination, pollination refers to the fertilisation of flowering plants through transfer of pollen by honey bees. While other agents can also act as plant pollinators, honey bees are the most significant pollinators of some crops because of the efficiency of foraging activities of bees, and the number (density) of bees under managed conditions which can be applied to a crop. 

The ability to ensure effective pollination is a significant constraint to many growers of fruit, nut, vegetable, and field crops (Jones, 1995), with many millions of dollars of potential domestic and export crop production being lost annually. The agricultural industry considers a strong, viable beekeeping industry to be vital for the maintenance of successful fruit, vegetable, nut and other crop production, as well as seed production. 

The food chain introduced since the establishment of European settlement is almost entirely exotic, with 65% of the food crops introduced requiring honey-bee pollination (Jones, 1995). The effective pollination of these crops is therefore vitally important to the on-going ability of Australian agriculture to provide food for the population, and to generate export income via the sale of food and fibre commodities overseas. In the USA, it has been estimated that perhaps one-third of the total human diet is dependent, directly or indirectly, on insect-pollinated plants. 

Another value of pollination relates to its effect on quality and efficiency of crop production. Inadequate pollination can cause reduced yields, delayed yields, and losses via inferior (unmarketable) fruit. Crop production, and thus agricultural incomes, can be improved as a result of achieving more effective pollination. Honey bee pollination also provides a service to managers of eucalypt forests, in stimulating seed set in "shy" types such as the Ash varieties including E. regnans and E. delegatensis

It is important to note that while only managed honey bees can provide paid pollination services, both feral bees and managed bees provide the unpaid pollination services. The importance of the pollination services provided by feral bees was dramatically demonstrated when ferals (left unprotected) in the USA became infected with the parasitic Varroa and Tracheal mites, and were exterminated in large numbers. A pollination crisis, particularly amongst lucerne seed and lucerne hay producers, resulted from this loss of feral bees. It was reported in the American literature that almost all of the feral bees in the USA had been eradicated by the mites, and that more than 60% of commercial honey bees had also been killed by the mites. This dramatic reduction in bee population was observed to have a severe effect on lucerne (alfalfa) production in the US. 

5.3 Paid pollination services

Gill (1989a) describes three ways in which crops may be pollinated by honey bees : 

    • by managed bees, in return for a fee paid to the beekeeper
    • by feral bees at no cost to the grower
    • incidentally, by managed bees, at no cost to the grower.
Paid pollination services involve the first of these pollination alternatives. Farmers engage commercial pollination services for hives to be placed within or in close proximity to flowering crops which are reliant on the activities of a pollinating agent such as bees to achieve fruit set or to maximise fruit quantity and quality. Such flowering crops can include fruit and nut trees, as well as pasture legumes and vegetable seed crops. This source of income for the industry has been outlined in Chapter 4, and is referred to as "paid pollination services". Such services are particularly important in almond, stone fruit and cucurbit production, and in the production of seeds for crops such as lucerne, clovers, and vegetables. 

It has been conservatively estimated (see Chapter 4) that the total value of paid pollination services is in the order of $3 million per annum. However, as noted, individual States such as South Australia have provided much higher estimates, with up to $4.7 million being assessed as received from paid pollination services in this State alone. Other estimates of the income derived from paid pollination have been obtained for some States, as described in the following, while other States have indicated the crops for which bee pollination activities are more keenly sought : 

Tasmania. A survey conducted in 1989 identified 2,176 hives being used for pollination services, provided to a wide range of crops (Gifford, 1989). The majority of these hives were used for the pollination of apples and other pome fruits. Other crops where such hives were placed included vegetables (carrots, onions, cabbage), and berries. At current rates for pollination services of $30 per hive, and assuming similar levels of hive usage, this represents around $65,000 in income for beekeepers derived from paid pollination services. 

Western Australia. The canola crop of this State is the major recipient of pollination benefits, but virtually no canola grower is currently prepared to pay for pollination services. Other crops which benefit from beekeepers include fruit, clovers and export apples - there is nil market tolerance for misshapen fruit. Surveys of pollination services have been conducted since 1993, with the latest survey (Feb. 1997) indicating a total of 3,372 hives being involved in the provision of pollination services (Manning, 1997 - unpublished). A major increase in the numbers of hives involved has been observed since 1993, and indications are that around 5,000 hives could be involved in the provision of pollination services in 1998. 

Again, the application of rates of $30/hive would suggest that total income for beekeepers from pollination could be in the order of $150,000. However, as indicated, the majority of canola growers will not pay beekeepers for this service. Canola growers are currently able to gain pollination services at no cost, as alternative (coastal) apiary sites have been affected by fires and frosts, with beekeepers having a consequent need to place hives on flowering crops to build up the health of their bees. 

South Australia. Almonds are the most important single crop to benefit from bee pollination in this state, as almonds are totally dependent on bee pollination to set fruit and so produce nuts. However, almonds are not prolific sources of nectar, and despite relatively high rates for eastern States ($30 to $35 per hive) being offered by almond growers, some beekeepers have chosen not to place hives in almond orchards. 

It is reported (SA Dept. of Agriculture, personal communication.) that an average weight loss of 10 kg/hive can be experienced while hives are in almonds. This is because the bees are only gathering pollen, providing protein to the hive, but not nectar, from the almond blossom. At an average price of $1.50/kg, this loss of weight represents $15 of honey being consumed by the hive. When the costs of 

    • moving to the almonds
    • preparing hives
    • the potential loss of bees from a protozoan infection (Nosema apis) exacerbated by pollinating almonds
* the opportunity cost of foregone honey production from good winter flows elsewhere  are all added, the payments being offered are not sufficient to attract all beekeepers to almond orchards. Other crops to benefit from bee pollination in South Australia are lucerne, other fruit such as plums, apricots, and apples, and vegetable crops (and clovers) grown for seed production. Much lower rates are paid for pollination of lucerne, for example, as up to 25 or 30 kgs of high quality honey can be obtained from this crop – and yields as high as 60 kg/hive have been reported. 

New South Wales. Crops which use paid pollination services in NSW include lucerne and canola and clover (for seed), sunflowers, apples/pears, cherries, berries, melons and pumpkins, kiwifruit, plums, avocados, macadamias, faba beans, coriander and mustard. While contracts for paid pollination services are routinely provided, data on the number of hives involved is not available. However, it can be stated that the total value of paid pollination services would be several orders of magnitude less than the total value (in terms of additional crop production) derived from the pollination activities provided by managed and feral bees. Other sites may also provide incidental pollination services, where hives are placed adjacent to crops, but intended to allow bees to access other honey-yielding species such as yellow box (E. melliodora) and river red gum (E. camaldulensis) that occur on private property. 

Victoria. Pollination services in Victoria are important for fruit production including apples, pears, nashi, avocados, some stone fruits including cherries and plums, almonds, kiwifruit, blue berries and Rubus berries, and some strawberry cultivars. Cucurbits in general are heavily dependent as is a whole range of vegetable seeds (brassicas, onions, carrots). Field crops such as canola and sunflowers also benefit from pollination, especially hybrid seed production. Pollination is necessary for production of clover and lucerne seed for domestic and export sales and, in addition, existing pastures (clover) benefit from honey bee pollination through increased seed yields and reseeding of pastures. 

Increasingly, paid pollination is being used for crop production in Victoria, with a significant number of beekeepers deriving 20-40% of their income from this source. Agriculture Victoria estimates a minimum of 20,000 hives are used for pollination. At $30 per hive, the annual income would be about $600,000. This is clearly an underestimate as each hive might be used for more than one pollination service per year. The value is likely to be more like $1 million. 

Unpublished estimates prepared within Agriculture Victoria value the pollination services provided by honey bees (feral and managed) at up to $150 million. Sideline apiary enterprises, engaged in paid pollination of intensive horticultural and agricultural crops, are reported (Agriculture Victoria) to be very important. There are many apiarists in Victoria who operate colonies of 50+ hives, and provide a quality, commercial pollination service to growers on a long standing basis. 

Queensland. The pollination services provided by bees, both paid and unpaid, are very important in Queensland. The production of crops which are important for Queensland, and are also highly dependent on the activities of bees, include : 

- fruit and nut crops such as apples, stone fruit, avocados, cucurbits (especially rockmelons), mangos, and macadamias 

- field crops such as sunflowers 

- hybrid seed production, especially sunflowers 

- the production of pastures, via the production of seeds such as lucerne and white clover. 

Many other crops, including beans, citrus, strawberries, canola, and peanuts also benefit significantly from the pollinating activities of bees. Increasingly, cucurbit, avocado, pome and stone fruit growers are recognising the value of these pollinating activities, and are prepared to pay for the provision of such services. The beekeeping industry in Queensland values pollination activities at $500,000 per annum – this figure is supported by records indicating that 16,356 registered hives are used to provide pollination services, which can then be compared to an average payment of $30/hive. However it is generally accepted that hives are used for pollination more than once per year. The estimate of $500,000 is therefore regarded as a very conservative estimate. 

In the Northern Territory, honey bees play a significant role in pollinating horticultural crops including cucurbits (especially rockmelons and butternuts), mangoes and cashews. Depending on the year, 400-500 hives are used for paid pollination. However lack of effective pollination is still one of the factors limiting the development of the rockmelon industry and there is scope for expansion. With the development of the Ord River Scheme, pollination of both horticultural and field crops is currently and will continue to be an important factor, especially for seed production.

The remainder of this chapter will outline the possible magnitude of the much larger value of "unpaid" pollination represented by the incidental pollination benefits that occur as a result of honey bees accessing the flowers of crop species, in order to obtain nectar and pollen. 

5.4 Assessments previously made of the value of unpaid pollination services

A number of attempts have been made to derive estimates of the total value of pollination services provided by bees. Some of these are reported here. 

In New Zealand, it has been estimated that the total annual value of honey bee pollination to primary production (1992 data) is $3.089 billion, which has been calculated from the following assumptions : 

- replacement nitrogen from pollinated pasture legumes $1.872 billion 

- total value of fruit crop production $1.005 billion 

- total value of vegetables/seeds production $0.211 billion 

In contrast, the NZ beekeeping industry is estimated to receive just $8.8 million in income from pollination services – which represents 0.3% of the total value derived from bee pollination. 

Extensive analyses of the benefits of the pollination services provided by bees have been conducted in Australia by Gill. The many papers by Gill on the subject of estimating the pollination benefits imparted by managed honey bees acknowledge the conceptual hurdles involved in attempting to value the incidental pollination provided by bees. Studies completed by Gill (e.g., Gill 1989b) have assessed the likely total value of pollination benefits provided by bees as being in the order of $1.2 billion. It is suggested that a large range of values is possible, depending on the assumptions made – and in particular, the assumptions made as to elasticity of response of production to a drop in total output. 

Gill’s basic approach compares a value of production from a "with pollination" scenario, to that value produced in a "without pollination" scenario. The two scenarios are related to each other via "supply shock" factors for each type of crop – factors which indicate the proportion of production that would still be obtained, in the absence of bee pollination. This approach therefore contrasts to the New Zealand study, which appears to have involved a simple addition of total value of production from those crops considered highly dependent on bee/insect pollination. 

5.5 A comprehensive approach to valuation of pollination services

This study has attempted to develop an estimate of the value of pollination services in Australia, with data being gathered at a State level so that the value attributed to the pollination activities of bees in each State can be assessed. The valuable body of work completed by Gill has provided a strong foundation for this estimate of the value of incidental pollination. 

In this analysis, the term "pollination benefit" is taken as describing the marginal value added to the production of specified crops as a result of bee pollination. This assumption means that the benefit is assessed in terms of the amount by which production would be lost if bee pollination were not available – in other words, the percentage reduction in yield which would be expected if the crop in question were totally isolated from insect pollination. This percentage reduction is referred to by Gill as the "per cent supply shock" (see, for example, Gill 1989a), and represents the supply reduction that would occur if bees were to be removed. 

The methodology employed for this analysis has involved : 

    1. Data on the value of production for 1994/95, by State, of certain crops has been obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (unpublished series, purchased for this study). These crops were selected as being reliant on insect pollination, and also as having comparable data across all States available from the ABS.
    2. The "supply shock" factors for each crop, as used by Gill (Gill, 1989), were then listed. The factors used are listed in Table 5.1 below.
    3. The "supply shock" factors for each crop, in each State, were then applied to the value of production data listed for each State. 
    4. The results of this process provided estimates of the value of pollination services, in each State, and for Australia as a whole.

Table 5.1
Selected crops, and supply shock factors applying to each

Selected crops
"Supply shock" factor
Avocado, Almonds, Onions, Sunflower
All 100 %
Macadamia, Cucumber, Mango, Apples, Asparagus, Cherries, Kiwifruit, Rock melons, Pumpkins
All 90 %
Apricots, Water melons, other melons, Plums
All 70 %
40 %
30 %
30 %
60 %
60 %
50 %
20 %
10 %
10 %
It must be stressed that this analysis considers only : 

1. a selected range of crops for which bee pollination is considered  significant, and 
2. crops for which disaggregated data at a State level is available. 

These limitations have meant that the values of vegetable, clover and lucerne seed production have all been excluded, as have values derived from the production of certain tropical fruits (which are all highly dependent on bee pollination) such as lychees, feijoa, and longan, as well as tea.  Moreover, a wide range of values can be derived, depending on decisions made as to whether to exclude certain crops which, although subject to a relatively low supply shock percentage, contribute a very significant proportion of the total value of agricultural production. 

Use of this approach indicates that the total value of unpaid pollination services in Australia could be in the order of $1.2 billion per annum (based on 1994/95 data).  The results of this analysis are in broad agreement with, and provide confirmation of, Gill’s figures. Gill’s original work was based on latest data available (in 1989) on the gross value of agricultural commodities produced in Australia, with no analysis provided at a State level. 

If the value of cotton production (and thus the 20% of value which could be considered to be lost in the absence of bee pollination) is excluded from the assessment, then an estimate of $1.0 billion would be derived as the value of pollination services provided by bees in Australia.  If, however, cotton production were to be included, then the total value of pollination would increase to $1.211 billion.  A range of similar analyses were conducted to test the sensitivity of the overall results to such assumptions.  Other than for cotton, where the large absolute value of production tends to strongly influence the results despite a relatively low supply shock factor of just 20%, the results were seen to be fairly robust to the assumptions made. 

The most important crops, in terms of their dependence on bee pollination to achieve production, are those with a 100% or 90% supply shock factor.  These crops, as listed in the following Table 5.2, account for nearly 56% of the total estimated pollination value in Australia. 

Table 5.2
Major bee-dependent crops, and estimated value of pollination provided
($ million, 1994/95)
Value of pollination provided by bees
Crops with 100% "supply shock" factor 
Crops with 90% "supply shock" factors
There are other crops which, although having a lower "supply shock" factor, have such a large absolute value of production (and thus importance to the Australian economy) that they also make a major contribution to the estimated value of incidental pollination services. Those individual crops providing the greatest contribution to the total value assessed for incidental pollination are listed in Table 5.3 below. It should be noted that cotton and citrus (with the exception of some mandarins and lemons) are not highly sensitive to bee activity (with "supply shock" factors on 20% and 30% respectively), but make a large contribution because of the total value of production of these two crops in Australia. The other three crops all have either 100% or 90% "supply shock" factors. 
Table 5.3
Significant crops, for pollination values
($ million, 1994/95)
Crops contributing more than $50 million to total pollination values Value of pollination provided by bees
These five crops alone contribute around 53% to the total of $1.2 billion estimated at the value of pollination provided. 

5.6 Value of pollination services in each State

While it is acknowledged that this analysis of pollination values is not complete, it does provide a consistent approach to the valuation of pollination services across all States of Australia. This is in contrast to Gill’s work, in which data been restricted to an assessment of the Australian total value. 

The following Table 5.4 presents a consistent set of estimates for each of the States of Australia, developed as a result of applying the Australia-wide methodology outlined above at an individual State level. While these figures may differ somewhat from estimates that have been prepared separately in some States, it should be noted that : 

    • the process of assessing pollination benefits in this study (i.e., use of the supply shock factor) may differ from that used in the individual State assessments.
    • not all crops have been included in the assessment presented in this study. As noted earlier, one of the major exclusions is the value of clover, lucerne, and vegetable seed produced, which can be very significant in some States. The only data readily available from the ABS related to the value of lucerne and clover hay production, and the value of vegetables produced, rather than to seed production values.
The data in Table 5.4 clearly indicate that all States receive benefits from the incidental pollination provided by bees. It is also clear that these incidental benefits greatly exceed the value of paid pollination services – the payments made to beekeepers by farmers to ensure that bees are placed in close proximity to crops for which bee pollination is considered vital (see section 5.3 above). The agricultural community is therefore receiving a large benefit as a result of the activities of the apiary industry. 
Table 5.4
Value of unpaid pollination services
($ million)
value of pollination services
New South Wales 
South Australia 
Western Australia 

 The data in Table 5.4 thus provide an assessment of the value of pollination services provided in each State, which is consistent across each State and which are, in total, in agreement with previous estimates prepared for Australia as a whole.  In contrast to estimates prepared by individual States, these valuation estimates are truly comparable.

5.7  Validation of data

 However, some concern has been expressed by both the agricultural sector and the beekeeping industry in relation to use of the ABS data on gross value of agricultural commodities produced in this analysis.  Both sectors believe that the ABS data are demonstrably low, and thus any valuation based on these data would also be significantly underestimated.  In the light of these concerns, data on selected production values were obtained from different sources in Queensland.  This State was selected as a test case purely on the grounds of having access to more direct sources of data, via the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (QDPI), and from agricultural producers using the services of bees for pollination.

 The analysis conducted for this study has indicated a total value of pollination services in Queensland of around $300 million.  The more direct sourcing of production data would indicate that the concerns over use of the ABS data may be well founded, as some major anomalies were identified, viz. :

- the ABS lists the value of rock melons produced in Queensland as $26 million for 1994/95.  Information from QDPI, from local records in the two major centres only (the Burdekin and Bundaberg) suggest a value of rock melon production of $40 million.  Local sources believe these figures underestimate the value of export rock melons, and that the “true” value of rock melon production should be in the order of $50 to $70 million.

- the ABS data indicates a value of strawberry production for Queensland of $11 million, while QDPI data estimates strawberry production to be worth $35 million.

 Based on this comparison, it is apparent that the “true” value of pollination services in Queensland could be much higher than the $300 million listed in Table 5.4 – perhaps as high as $400 million.  Similar data anomalies could therefore also be found in other States, suggesting that the national estimate of $1.2 billion could also be significantly underestimated.  It may be advantageous for a more detailed, carefully researched collection of data to be prepared, and for a national valuation (built up from State-level data) to be prepared.

 However, despite these data concerns, the analysis presented here is sufficient to indicate the major economic role played by the beekeeping industry in supporting Australian agricultural production.

5.8  References

Gifford, D (1989).  Tasmanian Pollination Industry.  Paper by Daryl Gifford, Agricultural Economist, Dept. of Primary Industry (Tasmania), contained in “Pollination services – proceedings of seminars held at Hobart and Deloraine, September 1989”, produced by Dept. Primary Industry, Tasmania and the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association.

Gill, R  (1989a).  Pollination Services : An overview.  Paper by Rod Gill, Dept. Agricultural Economics and Business Management, UNE, contained in “Pollination services – proceedings of seminars held at Hobart and Deloraine, September 1989”, produced by Dept. Primary Industry, Tasmania and the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association.

Gill, R  (1989b).  The Value of Pollination Services in Australia.  Roderic A. Gill, Dept. Agricultural Economics and Business Management, UNE.

Jones, W (1995).  “To bee or not to bee” - honey bees in the Australian environment.  Forest Resource 95 Conference.  Macquarie University.


6.1  Summary

 The apiary industry is very heavily dependent on public lands - the state forests, national parks, other conserved forests, stockroutes and other land managed by government. This land contains the majority of remaining native forest on which the industry is so reliant. It also provides much of the network of apiary sites which the industry needs to access in order to harvest the honey flows which occur irregularly and for short periods. Native forests on public lands also provide a “safe harbour” and clean rehabilitation area which is needed to rebuild the strength and health of hives.

 The response from government to the issue of access to resources on public land - particularly conserved areas - differs from state to state. In New South Wales, access to national parks has been reduced drastically through government policy. In others states like Victoria, access agreements which do not compromise conservation objectives have been reached and reflected in legislation.

 Although a precise figure cannot be calculated, a significant proportion of the value of honey production and the much greater value of pollination services can be attributed to the resources on public land.  Without access, the industry could not survive in its present form.

6.2  Introduction

 Previous chapters have demonstrated the important economic role of the managed beekeeping industry within regional Australia. The industry contributes around $60 million in income to rural producers (farm gate values), which in turn is distributed through rural economies in payments for goods and services. To maintain this level of production, the industry needs access to high quality floral resources - both nectar and pollen. Some key issues are discussed below.

6.3  Public land as a resource base for migratory beekeeping

 The Australian beekeeping industry has developed over many years around native plant species which flower irregularly for short periods.  An apiary site might be occupied for as little as six weeks, and the apiary may be moved six times a year.  In Victoria, a commercial apiarist occupies on an occasional basis about 20 sites per year, but in the long term a network of many more than 20 sites must be available to accommodate the apiary in different seasons (Briggs and Keith 1996). An apiarist may own several different apiaries. The industry is thus highly migratory, and movements over hundreds of kilometres and interstate are quite common.  A large network of sites to use different floral resources for different seasons is required.  The information given below shows that, in most states, a large part of this network is in native forests on public land.

6.4  Reliance on native flora on public land for floral resources, and the response of governments to the issue of access

 For honey production, the Australian industry accesses floral resources from native forests, scrubland and coastal heaths, pastures, weed species such as Salvation Jane, horticultural and agricultural crops.  The balance of resources varies from state to state, but nationally there is an overwhelming reliance on native flora, which accounts for 70 - 80% of annual honey production (Mathison 1988).  Although some other floral types are significant, eucalypts are by far the most important source of both nectar and pollen on a national basis (Briggs and Keith 1996).

 The dependence on native forests is an issue for the industry because these forests are under threat in Australia from land clearing, salination, and pests and diseases.  Native floral resources are declining.  Agricultural crops, pastures and weeds compensate to only a limited extent (Mathison, 1988). Plantations of native or exotic species may help to reduce the reliance of the timber industry on native forests, but it does little for beekeepers. As the total forest area declines, the importance of the resource on public land increases. The traditional access by beekeepers to these public lands is being challenged - to different degrees in different states.  The position for each state is summarised below.

 In New South Wales, the data from Capilano Honey Ltd analysed by Somerville and Moncur (1997) reveals that eucalypts supply, on average, 70% of the honey crop obtained by NSW producers. Other native species including brush box (Lophostemon confertus) provide from 5-17%, depending on the year. Salvation Jane (Echium plantagineum) contributed 16%, and clover (Trifolium repens) a lesser amount. These figures show that dependence on native forests in NSW is overwhelming.

  About two thirds of the forested land in New South Wales is publicly owned. Approximately 25% is state forest, 25% is crown timber land, and 16% is national park and nature reserves. State forests and crown timber land are administered by State Forests of New South Wales. The State Forest jurisdiction allows for beekeeping as part of its overall management program, issuing about 3,800 permits in 1995 ( source: NSW State Forests).  Another 2,900 sites are provided by the Rural Lands Protection Board on stockroutes and reserves (Somerville 1997).

  National parks are administered by National Parks and Wildlife service (NPWS), and the area controlled by NPWS is likely to expand.  Some 53,300 ha have been transferred to national park status without any consultation with agriculture or the beekeeping industry (Jones 1995).  While beekeeping sites held before 1989 in public forest now managed by NPWS can be retained by the permit holder, they are not transferable and no new sites will be approved under current NPWS policy.  Existing sites cannot be sold as part of a business nor passed on to other family members.  The Association in NSW is working to have this decision reversed.

   Nowhere else in Australia has this “sunset” clause been imposed on bee sites in conserved areas (Jones 1995) and in states other than New South Wales beekeeping is permitted and access granted under relevant legislation (Briggs and Keith 1987).  This loss of access to resources in national parks is greatly concerning apiarists in NSW.

 In Queensland, the dependence on native forests and eucalypts in particular is similar to New South Wales. The Capilano Honey Limited data for 1995 shows 80% of receivals came from native species, at least 65% from eucalypts.  The remaining 20% came from crops (canola, cane, sunflower, citrus, cotton etc), various weeds or miscellaneous sources.

  A recent survey by the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland shows 48% of production comes from 2,781 sites currently in active use on crown land, including leasehold land. (there are currently about 4,500 apiary sites in state forests).. Fifty-seven percent of sites on private land produced 52% of the honey.  These figures underestimate the relative importance of public land because many beekeepers access this land from private apiary sites adjacent to the boundary.  At least half of the production, and probably considerably more, depends on forests on public land.

  Reasonable access to this land has been negotiated.  A cooperative policy for access to state forests has been developed between the industry and the Forest Service.  The 1994 agreement between the (then) Department of Environment and Heritage and the Queensland Beekeepers’ Association provided access to permanently conserved lands by setting aside apiary sites in resource reserves, in which beekeeping is an approved use.  Leasehold land is currently accessed by negotiation with lessees.  The Queensland Beekeepers Association is seeking a whole-of-government approach in which access to resources is coordinated across the various departments controlling land under different tenures.

 In Victoria, a study by the Honey Research Council in 1989 showed that 77% of the floral resource was provided by eucalypt forests and woodlands and another 7% was banksia scrubland and coastal heathland.  Ten percent came from weeds including Salvation Jane (Echium plantagineum) , 5% from crops (oilseeds and clovers) and 1% from roadsides.  Again, the overwhelming importance of native forests, especially eucalypts, is demonstrated.

  The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’   Guidelines (12/95) recognise that 85% of the State’s forest cover is now restricted to public land.  Access to this public land is considered essential to the industry as it accounts for probably 50% of all apiary sites. The Department administers approximately 630 annual apiary site licences and authorises occupancy of a further 2,000 sites under 3-6 month permits when nectar and pollen resources are abundant.  Recognising the regional economic importance of beekeeping, the former Land Conservation Council consistently recommended the continued access by beekeepers where it is compatible with nature conservation and public recreation.  The recommendation has been adopted by Government and supported by legislation. 

 In Tasmania, the industry is unusually focused around one specific floral resource - leatherwood (Eucryphia lucida and E milliganii) which accounts for 60 -70% of honey production.  The remainder is “white” honey derived from blackberries and clover (Gill 1997). About 80% of the leatherwood honey comes from 45 apiary sites in the World Heritage Area, the remainder from state forests. Sixty-four percent of apiarists surveyed as part of the Regional Forest Agreement process in Tasmania reported that they use native forests predominantly.

  Access by beekeepers to the World Heritage Area is controlled under the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Management Plan (1992). It allows continued access to existing sites (under some conditions), possible expansion if there is a proven nectar source and existing road access, and transferability of sites.  The conditions of access have the full support of the Tasmanian beekeepers (Gill 1997).

 In Western Australia, the industry is based mainly in the forests of the south-west.  A survey by Manning (1992) reveals the very high dependence on public lands in that state also.  An estimated 74% total production came from 791 apiary sites on land controlled by the Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM). 

 Manning’s description of the six most important areas providing the sites on this public land confirms the importance of native species in general and eucalypts in particular (including karri, jarrah and wandoo). The coastal heaths are also significant.  The extent of reliance on native forests on public land is thus similar to the eastern States.

 In 1992, CALM placed a 5-year moratorium on apiary sites.  No new sites were issued, and some cancelled sites were not re-allocated.  Some sites in sensitive conservation areas were relocated to less sensitive areas. In general, access to the major floral resources has been retained through negotiations with a Beekeeping Consultative Committee, and bee sites can be transferred. However beekeepers are pressing for a guarantee of continued access now that the moratorium has expired.

 In South Australia, the extent of forest cover is much less than in the eastern States and Western Australia and consequently the industry relies more heavily on crop, pasture and weed species. Even so, remnant native flora (mainly eucalypts) on freehold land and the economically-accessible public land remains important. Industry estimates 50% of the state’s honey crop comes from native flora. The banksia heathlands on conserved land serve a particularly useful purpose in conditioning bees during winter for pollination of crops - mainly almonds - in spring.  Of 440 public land bee sites, 265 are located in the Ngarkat National Park.

  The conserved areas are managed by National Parks and Wildlife within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Apiary sites were lost towards the end of the 1980’s when sites within national parks were made non-transferable.  However the conditions of access are being re-negotiated through the SA Apiarists’ Association and the Apiary Industry Consultative Committee, and some sites have been re-allocated. Access will be allowed as long as research shows compatibility with native forest systems. Negotiations are progressing towards formalising government policy.

 In the Northern Territory, the industry is small but is also reliant on native flora including eucalypt (especially box) and melaleuca species. A small herb called Beriria which grows in disturbed areas along roadsides is also important. The degree of reliance on conserved areas has not been estimated.  The industry is denied access not only to resources within Kakadu and other national parks such as Oolooroo, but also to the considerable resources within a 5 km buffer zone around these conserved areas.  This is an issue of considerable concern.

6.5  Pesticide-free refuges

 Many agricultural crops are sprayed with insecticides, fungicides and herbicides to control pests.  Honey bees are deployed to such crops from time to time to improve crop yields.  Pesticides vary in their toxicity to honey bees, and sublethal doses may have an effect on the hive similar to a break in the availability of nectar and pollen (Ferguson 1988).  Honey production may be depressed because of the lower nutritional intake. After a period of working crops, it is useful to have access to a pesticide-free forest area in which to rehabilitate the hives.

 During periods of Government-sponsored spraying programs to control pests such as plague locusts or mosquitos, forests are used as safe areas for managed honey bees.

6.6  Maintaining hive strength

 Honey bees are short-lived, and both nectar and pollen are required year round to maintain the honey bee colony and to allow for the rapid expansion in the adult bee population which occurs when floral resources are abundant.  Nectar supplies energy and pollen provides the vital source of protein for health and growth.

 A managed colony has a substantial requirement for pollen - in the order of 15 - 55 kg/year (Winston 1987).  Floral types including the various eucalypts vary greatly in the amount of nectar and pollen produced. The quality of pollen also varies - depending on the balance of amino acids and proteins. For commercial reasons, apiaries are often deployed to work nectar flows which yield little or poor quality pollen. Pollen earlier stored in the hive maintains it for short periods, but the hive must be returned fairly quickly to an adequate pollen source to re-build colony strength and health. 

 From time to time, the best sources of nectar and pollen supplies are to be found in native forests and heathland systems on public land. It is important for the industry to have the opportunity to use these resources when required. 

6.7  Effects of excluding beekeeping from conserved areas

 Reducing access by beekeepers to conserved areas has several effects.  The most direct effect is reduced production of honey, beeswax and other apiary products, lowering the commercial viability of the Australian industry.  The indirect effects are several:
     the reduction of community flow-on effects identified in Chapter 4 
     the loss of production through the whole industry because at critical times the hives may not otherwise be able to be maintained in adequate health
    and the loss of paid pollination services which often depend on the ability to place hives on good floral resources to maintain colony vigour and to build up adult bee populations prior to the period of pollination.

  Any significant reduction of access to reserved native forest would have such wide-ranging effects that the industry at large could not survive in its present form.

6.8  References

Briggs JL and Keith DG (1996).  Honey bees in Australian conserved forests.  The Federal Council of Australian Apiarists’ Associations.  Policy Document.

Ferguson, F (1988).  Long term effects of systemic pesticides on honey bees. Proceedings of the Second Australian and International Beekeeping Congress. Queensland.  Ed by J W Rhodes

Gill, R  (1997).  Beekeeping and secure access to public land.  How it benefits the industry and society.  RIRDC Research Paper Series no 97/16.

Jones WA  (1995).  ‘To bee or not to bee’; honey-bees in the Australian environment.  Proceedings of the Forest Resources ‘95 Conference.  Macquarie University. Ed by John R Merrick.

Mathison A (1988).  Floral resources and limiting factors affecting commercial beekeeping in Australia. Proceedings of the Second Australian and International Beekeeping Congress. Queensland.  Ed by J W Rhodes.

Manning, R (1992).  Honey production, economic value and geographical significance of apiary sites in Western Australia.  Final Report for the Honeybee Research and Development Council Project DAW 3H.

Somerville DC ((1997).  Bee sites and Rural Land Protection Boards in New South Wales - a major resource.  Australasian Beekeeper  99 (4) 142-143 

Somerville DC and Moncur  MW (1997).  The importance of Eucalyptus species for honey production in New South Wales, Australia.  Paper for the XXXVth International Congress, Antwerp, Belgium, Sept 1997.

Winston ML  (1987).  The biology of the honey bee.  Harvard University Press.


7.1  Summary

 First introduced over 170 years ago, honey bees (Apis mellifera) had colonised forests of much of Australia by the mid 1800’s.  Honey bees collect nectar and pollen from a wide range of Australian native plants, but are they adversely affecting those plants, or displacing wildlife?  Over the last 20 years, researchers have examined the potential for honey bees to interfere with insect and bird pollinators, pollination and seed set, and with animals requiring nesting hollows.  Until recently, no study has properly examined the interaction between managed migratory honey bees and flora and fauna.  The latest information is considered in this chapter.

 Native bees have been used as an indicator of effects on insect pollinators.  The most recent studies support the argument these effects are either absent or minor.  The evidence so far on competition with fauna for nesting hollows suggests that these effects also are minor, particularly in undisturbed environments.  With respect to bird pollinators and seed set, a recent study on Callistemon show that honeyeaters may be displaced and seed set affected if the nectar resource is limiting.  Similarly, pollination of Correa may be affected.  However no adverse effects on honeyeaters or plants have been demonstrated in studies where the resource is not limiting, such as in Desert Banksia heathlands in winter.  This is important because the migratory commercial beekeeping industry seeks to operate in native forests including conserved areas only under conditions of excess resource.

 The population dynamics of feral and managed honey bee populations must be understood so that the potential effects of feral and managed honey bees can be clearly distinguished.  Feral honey bees are uncontrolled, self-sustaining, ubiquitous and sometimes present in high numbers.  In contrast, managed honey bees are moved regularly to harvest excess honeyflows and their numbers and location are controlled by beekeepers and public land managers.  In the absence of substantial evidence to the contrary, access to other conserved areas, as presently allowed, should be continued.

7.2  Background

 The Australian honey bee had its origins in successful introductions in New South Wales in 1822 and Western Australia in 1866.  Over the last 170 years, it has become naturalised - in all but perhaps the most arid areas - from Cape York to Tasmania and from the east to the west coast.  By the mid-1800’s, honey bees were established in the forest systems of much of Australia (Laurie 1863).  There is anecdotal evidence that by the late 1860’s settlers were augmenting diet and income by harvesting honey from feral honey bee colonies.  Feral honey bees supplied the stock from which small apiaries were established, giving rise to the honey bee industry in Australia (Briggs, personal communication).
  An efficient gatherer of both nectar and pollen, the honey bee is found in most habitats including eucalypt and rain forests, coastal heaths, farming and grazing land and urban areas. It is not surprising that there are concerns from some ecologists about the possible effects of the honey bee on native plants and animals. 
  The debate about these perceived effects is important for economic, social and conservation reasons.  The information in earlier sections of this report shows that the beekeeping industry contributes significantly to the national economy and that many Australians depend on it.  It also shows that the industry relies very heavily on continuing access to native forests including conserved forests.  Restricting this access would have far-reaching economic and social effects.  On the other hand, the integrity of conserved areas must be safeguarded for the current and future generations.  Management decisions must therefore be based on scientific assessment rather than emotion or ideology.

 The Australian scientific research on environmental effects is considered in this chapter.  Most of the work has been conducted within the last 20 years. Early studies on competition are relevant to the effects of feral honey bees, but, until recently, no studies properly examined the interaction between managed, migratory apiaries and the native flora and fauna. 

 As part of the current debate about forest use in Australia, all of the relevant literature has been comprehensively reviewed recently by Seeman (1994), Paton (1995), Sugden et al (1996), Schwarz and Hurst (1997), Manning (1997), and others.  These reviews have been considered in formulating this report. 

7.3  Scientific studies on the environmental effects of honey bees

 Honey bees visit a very wide range of species from over 200 genera of Australian native plants. In some habitats, 30 - 50% of plant species in an area may be visited. These species are normally pollinated by wind, birds, insects or mammals.  Nectar and pollen produced by these plants are also shared by many insects and vertebrate animals.  Most studies on environmental effects consider competition for nectar or pollen between honey bees and the native fauna, interference with pollination of plants, or competition with fauna for nesting hollows.  These studies are considered below.

7.3.1  Competition studies

 Effects on native bees
 Native bees as an indicator of competition

 Native bees are a natural focus for researchers investigating the effects of honey bee competition.  They are by far the dominant agents in pollination of natural ecosystems, and there are over 1,500 species in Australia (Sugden, Thorp and Buchman 1996). Native bees and honey bees share nectar and pollen resources, but honey bees might be expected to have an advantage because they have an extended foraging period, can regulate hive temperature, can recruit many nestmates to take advantage of abundant resources, and can forage over larger distances (Schwarz and Hurst 1997).  Honey bees, being larger than most other insect visitors to flowers, can remove larger amounts of nectar and pollen during a visit (Paton 1995).  If there are effects on native pollinating insects, they should be revealed in competition studies with native bees.

 Effects on numbers of native bees

 If honey bees compete with native bees, the number of native bees visiting flowers might be expected to fall when honey bees are introduced in hives.  Such an effect was reported by Pyke and Balzer (1985) who worked with a species of Leptospermum.  However in his report in 1995 Paton stated that, for a number of technical reasons, the study did not provide convincing evidence of competitive interaction.  Although he felt that the results of similar studies by Bailey (1994) on a Leucopogon were more credible, he was still not convinced that lower counts of native bee visits would necessarily indicate competition.  Competition for resources might cause the native bee to take longer to collect the amount of nectar and pollen needed to package with its single egg in a nesting burrow.  If this were the case, more sightings would be expected in the field.

 Effects on reproductive performance of native bees

 A long-term decline in the reproductive performance of native bees would be a better indicator of competition with honey bees.  From a study in Nadgee Nature Reserve in NSW, Sugden and Pyke (1991) reported such an effect. However again the recent reviews point to significant inconsistencies and ambiguities in this work.

 The more recent study reported by Schwarz and Hurst (1997) on reproductive performance at Cobboboonee State Forest near Portland, Victoria is more detailed and more relevant because, for the first time in Australia, it was geared to commercial migratory beekeeping. Yet this study provides no evidence for resource competition. On the contrary, colony survival and brood production of the native bee species were higher when honey bee hives were introduced. The authors suggested that the increased density of honey bees might have saturated the local predator population, reducing predation on the native bees.  Significantly, nectar and pollen sources in this eucalypt forest system during this study were not limiting.

 Spessa and Schwarz conducted another study in the Black Ranges, Toolangi State Forest, Victoria (see Paton 1995).  Preliminary data suggests no conspicuous impact of honey bees on this site, although pupal masses of the native bee may be slightly lower. 

 Conclusions from native bee studies

 Even though native bees might be expected to be affected by honey bees, the Australian information provides no convincing evidence for such an effect.  Reviewers indicate that more research is needed. For example Schwarz and Hurst (1997) argue that “the jury is out (or should be) regarding the possibility of negative impacts of Honey Bees.” 

 Sugden et al (1996) reviewed the information from around the world. They noted that “the most stringent analysis would reject most or all of the studies as incomplete or flawed and therefore incapable of providing useful conclusions.”  However they felt that the balance of evidence tended to suggest that honey bees have an impact on other bees under some circumstances.  They also acknowledge that others might interpret the data differently.  These comments only highlight the fact that a clear case for adverse competition has not been established.

 Effects on birds

 Australian honeyeaters depending on the same resources as honey bees are the most likely birds to be adversely affected by them. Only David Paton and co-workers have experimentally manipulated honey bee numbers and measured responses by birds (Paton 1995).  The first of two studies was conducted on the scarlet bottlebrush (Callistemon rugulosus) in Scott Conservation Park near Goolwa, SA.  New Holland Honeyeaters responded to honey bee presence by visiting flowers less often, avoiding the inflorescences favoured by bees, and feeding at different times of the day.  The number of honeyeaters in an area was halved, and females appeared to be displaced more than males.

 The second study on the Desert Banksia (Banksia ornata) heathlands in the Ngarkat Conservation Park in South Australia produced different results.  Introducing commercial quantities of honey bees did not affect the number of honeyeaters in three different seasons, nor the numbers of nectar-feeding mammals or invertebrates. 

 The explanation for the quite different effects on honeyeaters in the two studies by the same research group in the same state appears to lie in the amount of floral resource available.  In the Callistemon study, all of the nectar being produced was consumed by floral visitors, predominantly New England Honeyeaters and/or honey bees.  In the Banksia study, there were surplus floral resources.  This might have been because honeyeater populations were limited by habitat disturbance (land clearance) outside the park, where the birds spend summer and autumn, rather than conditions in the Park during the winter flowering period.

 Conclusions on bird studies

 The conclusion to be drawn from these studies on birds is that competition with honey bees may occur in some ecosystems, and not in others.  If floral resources are limited, competition may occur.  If resources are surplus to the requirements of native fauna, as at Ngarkat, competition is not an issue.

 Effects on pollination of plants 

 Honey bees are important and efficient pollinators of many agricultural crops.  They might be expected to increase, decrease, or alter pollination in native plants.

 The risk of increased hybridisation

 Hybridisation of plants is a natural evolutionary process.  An efficient introduced pollinator such as the honey bee might cause more hybridisation of native plants.  Such an effect would be of concern in Australia where the flora is unique and diverse.  However there is no experimental evidence to support it. Indeed, there are substantial reasons for concluding that hybridisation of native plant species is far less likely to be due to the foraging of honey bees than to the foraging of native pollinators including native bees and birds.  Among the Apidae genera, honey bees have a remarkably high species fidelity, and remain constant to a single floral source until reprogrammed by the hive to work another species (von Frisch 1953).

  Paton (1995) states that “many species of native fauna are just as likely to effect interspecific pollen flows as honey bees, if not more so...”.  He also notes that the frequency of hybridisation is low, despite the frequent movement of native pollinators between species, suggesting that post-pollination mechanisms select against inter-specific pollen.

 Australian studies on pollination and seed set

 Several recent studies have focused on the effects of honey bees on pollination of Australian native plants.  At Goolwa in South Australia, Paton (1995) worked with Callistemon rugulosus which is largely self-incompatible and is usually pollinated by the New Holland Honeyeater.  Floral resources were limiting and the honeyeaters were displaced by honey bees, as described previously.  Pollen-gathering honey bees struck the stigma on only 16.7% of visits, compared with >50% for honeyeaters.  Honey bees moved between plants far less frequently than honeyeaters.  Under these conditions, it would be expected that seed-set would be reduced by honey bees, and experiments with flowers caged to exclude birds but not honey bees confirmed such an effect.

 Paton also reported another effect where honey bees and birds were harvesting different resources from the one plant, the Common Correa (Correa reflexa) in Flinders National Park.  The plant releases pollen from its anthers before the stigma is receptive.  Honey bees preferred to gather pollen, while the birds sought nectar.  There was no competition for resources and the birds were not displaced.  However seed set was reduced.  Experiments show that the honey bees removed most of the pollen while the plant was functionally male.  Subsequent visits by birds during the female phase were ineffective with respect to pollination.  Paton (1995) also noted that Pyke reported a similar effect where pollination in Christmas Bells (Blandfordia nobilis) was reduced by honey bees, but provided no quantitative data.

 Most of the studies mentioned above are relevant to the debate about whether feral honey bees adversely affect pollination.  The evidence suggests that there may be adverse effects under conditions of limited floral resources when the feral honey bees use non-commercial species.

 However a different effect might reasonably be predicted for managed honey bees introduced into an area to take advantage of a honeyflow in a commercial species.  One of the few detailed studies relevant to migratory managed apiaries (Paton 1995) demonstrates this point.  The researchers examined the effect of seasonal introduction of commercial quantities of managed honey bees at Ngarkat Conservation Park in South Australia where there were surplus floral resources in the Desert Banksia (B ornata).  In each of three years, the managed honey bees introduced to the area significantly increased seed production.  This appears to be because there are too few native pollinators in the park to adequately pollinate the flowers.

 Unfortunately, pollination experiments to test the effects of managed honey bees on non-target species under conditions of excess honeyflow do not appear to have been conducted.  Given that honey bees maintain fidelity to a honey source while it remains available, it is likely that non-target effects would be minimal.

 Conclusion on pollination studies

 There is no evidence for increased hybridisation by honey bees, and indeed it is unlikely.

 When floral resources are limited, honey bees may adversely affect pollination of some non-commercial species. 

 No corresponding studies have been performed on managed honey bees on non-commercial plant species under conditions of excess nectar and pollen resources.  However the effects could reasonably be expected to be minimal.

 Paton’s study on the Desert Banksia shows that, when floral resources are not limiting, introduced managed honey bees had no adverse effects and may indeed substitute for low numbers of natural pollinators. 

 Effects on nesting sites

 Feral honey bees establish nests in tree hollows and other places in cavities which meet certain requirements of volume, height above ground, size of opening, and so on.  Cavities meeting these criteria are also used by a range of birds, bats, reptiles and other animals.  Thus there are concerns that honey bees might displace native species, including some which are rare and endangered. 

 One of the few detailed scientific studies on this subject was conducted by Oldroyd and colleagues (1994) in Wyperfield National Park, Victoria, where the vulnerable Regent Parrot shared its territory with high densities of feral honey bees.  Of the 3,908 available hollows throughout the study area, 27 were occupied by feral hives and 15 by regent parrot nests.  Thus 99.3% of hollows were available to native fauna. Although managed honey bees had not been introduced into the area for 20 years, the feral bee population was very high by world standards.  Even so, there was no evidence of competition for nesting hollows. 

 Paton’s 1995 report lists several other studies including those on cockatoos by Saunders in Western Australia.  He says that the consensus is that in most areas, natural hollows are under-used.  He also notes that while the competition studies between feral honey bees and native hollow-dependent fauna are far from satisfying, the greater concern is the continuing loss of old hollow-bearing trees due to logging, agriculture and natural decay. 

 Conclusion about competition for nesting hollows

 The evidence for competition for nesting hollows suggests that nesting hollows are not in short supply in undisturbed environments.  Competition for nesting sites is not affecting reproductive success in such areas.

7.4  The importance of measuring floral resources in ecological studies

 Seeman (1994) notes that an important requirement for competition is that the resource must be limiting.  The studies by Paton, already described, support this point.  Research which aims to reflect commercial beekeeping practice or typical feral bee behaviour must include measurement of the resources available.  Otherwise the results are very hard to interpret.

 Paton (1995) summarised three types of studies used to measure floral resources in Australia.  The first measures the total amount of nectar produced per flower, plant or per unit area and relates it to the needs of honeyeaters.  The second measures nectar remaining in flowers at different times of the day, and compares the resource with the amount of energy needed by birds to harvest it.  The third calculates the proportion of floral resources used by honey bees compared with other species, mainly birds, at selected plants.

 With the notable exception of the Schwarz and Spessa experiments in eucalypt systems, the studies on floral resources are limited in number and confined mainly to heathlands or low woodlands where plants such as Banksia flower in winter.  Although Banksias are important resources in their own right, more studies are needed for other systems, especially eucalypts, on which the migratory beekeeping industry is based.  However eucalypts flower irregularly, and this is a critical point when measuring floral resources, and competition effects associated with managed migratory apiaries.  River Red Gum (E. camaldulensis) for example, may flower only for a 6-week period every third year, and managed bees will be introduced only for that period when the resource is in excess - ie 18 weeks occupancy by apiaries out of a possible total of 468 weeks. 

 7.5.  Why managed and feral honey bees must be distinguished

 “Oils ain’t oils” and “bees ain’t bees”. 

 In the debate about environmental effects, it is absolutely critical that the differences between the feral and managed honey bee populations be understood and taken into account.

 Feral honey bees are a natural component of all forested, woodland and heathland ecosystems and have been for the last 170 years.  Natural dynamics regulate population densities.  Although there is interaction between feral and managed populations, the feral population is essentially self-sustaining.  Indeed, it may be genetically distinct (Koulianis 1991).  It is neither dependent on nor controlled by man.  Feral colonies operate in the one location all year round.  In contrast, managed honey bees are operated mostly as migratory apiaries, most often for short periods when conditions are non-limiting. They are totally man-dependent, and the population can be controlled.  Further details are given below.

7.5.1  Feral colonies

 The feral population is controlled by natural factors - rainfall, drought, temperature, fire, floral resources and bee diseases. The density of the population varies from area to area, and also within an area. Paton (1995) provides information for the distribution in each state.  In Victoria, for example, feral colonies are present throughout, with highest densities in north-west mallee regions and riparian habitats, ironbark woodlands, north-east regions, and drier woodlands in the south-west.  Goodman and Hepworth (1996) found 0 to 12 colonies in 30,000 square metre survey blocks in the Goulbourn Valley. The lowest densities are in the wetter forests of eastern Victoria. 

 Paton (1995) lists a range of values from 0.001 to 0.77 colonies per hectare.  The higher figure was from work by Oldroyd et al (1994) in Wyperfield National Park in north-western Victoria.  The nests were located along a riparian woodland in Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and Black Box (E. largiflorens) trees.  Although not representative of the entire park, they show that very high densities occur in some habitats.  A related study (Oldroyd et al 1995) in the same park shows that the feral nests may be aggregated rather than evenly distributed. Six nests were located in a single 1-hectare plot. 

 Feral colonies are not controlled at the present time.  Future options are limited but include chemical control, physical removal of colonies, and limiting access to watering points (Schwarz and Hurst 1997)  Chemical methods obviously have the potential to affect managed honey bees and native flora also.  All of the proposed feral control methods pose technical difficulties and/or safety issues.  In addition, reinfestation is likely to occur through the same means by which the original populations were established over 100 years ago.

 Because they are not exposed to systematic genetic improvement as the case with managed honey bees, feral honey bees develop different and sometimes undesirable behavioural traits.

7.5.2  Managed honey bees

 Managed honey bees are deployed quite differently.  Commercial beekeepers move hives up to 6 times a year to maximise financial returns.  Successful professionals monitor the flowering of honey flora and maintain a range of apiary sites for use over a period of years.  The hives, moved at night, may be transported hundreds of kilometres and sometimes over state borders to access major honey flows.  The sites may be on public or private land, and may be occupied for as little as 6 weeks.  Several years may elapse between occupancies. 

 The information provided in Paton’s 1995 report shows the floral resources used in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia and the months of use. It confirms that commercial beekeeping is migratory and that the resource is often used for short periods.

 Individual apiary sites are used for different purposes, depending on the abundance of nectar and pollen.  They are used to produce honey, provide pollination services, or to rebuild hive strength.  Beekeepers also provide pollen and nectar supplements to maintain hives during periods of resource shortage. Diseases can be controlled in managed apiaries.

 How apiarists use individual sites is now being quantified by research funded by the Rural Industry Research and Development Corporation, the industry and state governments.  For example, a study in Western Australia by Manning (1992) showed that sites used by commercial beekeepers were vacant on average for 77% of the year, and those by semi-commercial beekeepers, for 50%.  Commercial beekeepers used an average of 101 hives per site, producing 77% of the total honey.  Non-commercial beekeepers produced 23% with an average 60 hives per site.  Studies in other states are producing similar information.

 The current studies are also showing the extent to which conserved areas are used by beekeepers and what percentage of the natural resource is being exploited.  These can be calculated by the number of available apiary sites and the foraging distance around sites.  In Western Australia, Manning (1997) notes that commercial apiarists in Western Australia are harvesting only 40% of the potential honey crop from 62% of the available land controlled by the Department of Conservation and Land Management in the south-west. 

 The density of managed colonies, unlike that of feral colonies, is controlled.  Paton (1995) calculates the effective density of managed hives (at 100 hives/site, foraging distance 2 km) at 0.1 colonies per hectare.

 The above information shows that feral and managed populations need to be considered separately when evaluating competition effects or control strategies.  The two populations are distinct, behave differently, and are likely to have different effects.

7.6  Discussion 

 The Australian studies discussed above show that

     effects on insect pollinators such as native bees are minor (or even slightly beneficial)
     competition for nesting sites with native animals is not proven
     there is no evidence for increased cross-pollination (hybridisation)
     honeyeater behaviour and seed set may be affected, but only when the resources are limited.

Migratory beekeepers in Australia rely heavily on access to native forests including conserved areas for both honey and pollen, but, as stated, they seek access to these areas only for the relatively short periods when floral resources are in abundance. It is not profitable to do otherwise.  The weight of evidence to date suggests that adverse effects under these conditions are non-existent or minor. 

Another important point is that, compared with the effects of fire management by man, natural phenomena (wildfire, drought and excess rainfall), and the activities of feral animals including pigs, cats, and rabbits, the effects of all honey bees on the reproductive success of native flora and fauna are unimportant.

In Australia, there are already scientific and other areas set aside without commercial activities of any kind.  There do not appear to be any good technical arguments for restrictions of access to other conserved areas where the floral resource is abundant from time to time.  Policy decisions to exclude beekeepers from conserved areas cannot be justified on ecological grounds.  However one of the options open to resource managers is to develop codes of practice in association with the beekeeping industry.

Resource managers must distinguish between the effects of feral and managed honey bees in conserved areas.  Only then can the relative effects of the two populations be put in context.

There is general agreement by both beekeeping organisations and scientists that more research is required on some aspects.  If this research is aimed at defining possible effects of managed bees, it must be relevant to commercial migratory production methods - exposure only for the duration of honey flows.  If directed towards the effects of feral bee honey bees, the number and size of colonies should approximate those in the wild.  General studies of the effects of large numbers of bees under restricted resource conditions will not advance the current debate.

7.7  References

Bailey WJ  (1994).  Feral bees: their potential effect on the native insect fauna.  In R Siewert, N Robinson and P Horwitz (eds) Impact and control of feral animals in south-western Australia, pp 19 -28.  Conservation Council of Western Australia, Perth.

Koulianos, S (1991).  Characterisation of commercial and feral strains of honeybees.  Australiasian Beekeeper 93 (2) .

Laurie, JS  (1863).  Landsborough’s exploration of Australia from Carpentaria to Melbourne, with special reference to the settlement of available country.   p 42.  Murby, Simpkin, Marshal and Co. London . Quoted from Gross CL (1996).  Submission to the Wet Tropics Management Authority regarding agistment of the introduced honeybee, Apis mellifera L in or adjacent to World Heritage Areas (unpublished).

Manning R  (1992).  ‘Honey production, economic value and geographic significance of apiary sites in Western Australia.’  Final report to Honey Research and Development Council: Canberra ACT.

Manning R  (1997).  The Honey Bee debate: a critique of scientific studies of Honey Bees Apis mellifera and their alleged impact on Australian wildlife.  The Victorian Naturalist           114 (1) 13 - 22.

Oldroyd BJ, Lawler SH and Crozier RH  (1994).  Do feral honey bees (Apis mellifera) and regent parrots (Polytelis anthropeplus) compete for nest sites?  Australian Journal of Ecology       19: 444 -450.

Oldroyd B, Smolenski A, Lawler S, Estoup A and Crozier R  (1995). Colony aggregations in Apis mellifera L  Apidologie 26: 119 - 130.

Paton DC (1995).  Overview of feral and managed honey bees in Australia: distribution, abundance, extent of interactions with native biota, evidence of impacts and future research.  Report to the Australian Nature Conservation Agency; 74 pp.

Pyke GH and Balzer L (1985).  The effects of the introduced honey bee (Apis mellifera) on Australian native bees.  New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service Report Occasional Papers No 7.

Schwarz MP and Hurst PS  (1997).  Effects of introduced Honey Bees on Australia’s native bee fauna.  The Victorian Naturalist  114 (1) 7-12.

Seeman, O (1994).  ‘The impact of managed honey bees on native Australian animals and plants.’  (Department of Entomology, University of Queensland: Brisbane).

Sugden EA and Pyke GH  (1991)  Effects of honey bees on colonies of Exoneura asimillima, an Australian native bee.  Australian Journal of Ecology  16:637 - 645.

Sugden EA, Thorp RW, and Buchmann, SL  (1996).  Honey bee-native bee competition: focal point for environmental change and Apicultural response in Australia.  Bee World 77 (1) 26-44.

von Frisch, K  (1953).  ‘The dancing bees’.  Harcourt Bruce, London


Throughout this study, the authors have enjoyed the full co-operation of industry leaders, government officers, researchers and beekeepers throughout Australia.  Without this assistance, the report could not have been completed to its current level of comprehensiveness and accuracy. 

The contribution of all sectors to this report is gratefully acknowledged, especially that of the FCAAA’s steering committee -

 Mr Laurie Dewar (National President)
 Mr Linton Briggs (Chief Executive Officer)
 Mr Greg Roberts (National Resource Chairman)

Special thanks also go to members of the Honey Packers and Marketers’ Association, including Bill Winner of Capilano Honey Limited, for access to industry statistics.

The authors would also like to thank the apiary officers, scientists and industry leaders, especially those who provided specialist technical information and/or reviewed the draft report.  Such individuals include :

Dr Ben Oldroyd, University of Sydney
Russell Goodman, Institute for Horticultural Development, Agriculture Victoria
Peter Stace, Primary Industry South Australia
R B Gulliford, Editor, “Australasian Beekeeper”
Fraser Truman and Peter Warhurst, Qld Dept of Primary Industries
John Rhodes, NSW Agriculture
Victorian Apiarists’ Association - President John van Weeghel
Rob Manning, Department of Agriculture Western Australia
Doug Somerville, NSW Agriculture
Duncan McMartin, Queensland Beekeepers’ Association
Trevor Weatherhead, Queensland Beekeepers’ Association.

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