Last month, I was invited by some local beekeepers to visit Australia and learn about the beekeeping and almond industries down under. I spent the week meeting with beekeepers, growers, other businesses in the AgTech space and government officials. We attended conferences and field days and enjoyed some meals with their fantastic coffee and wine. It was a week of learning for me, and I want to share some interesting findings about the industry that I was able to pick up through the Aussie slang.
Though Australian beekeepers don’t have to deal with the Varroa mite, the key challenge that dictated how hives are managed commercially is forage availability. There’s a lot more natural forage available in Australia, and compared to the US, hives tend to produce more honey each year. Depending on the region, Australian hives can produce 165lbs per hive each year, whereas American beekeepers are usually grateful to crack to 100lb mark.
Because of better forage availability, not all beekeepers feed their bees. Some are starting to experiment with it, but the focus seemed to be more on pollen supplements than sugar-based feed. I didn’t find a single beekeeper who feeds with sugar syrup. One interesting impact of this is how many hives in single deep boxes are sent to almonds, which raises a concern for robbing before almond bloom. To prevent this, many beekeepers don’t bring their hives into almonds until 10% bloom, much later than in California.
Competition to almond pollination
Unlike in the US, almonds aren’t the only crop blooming at the beginning of the season, so Australian almond growers must compete with other crop growers to meet their pollination needs. Canola is planted in a similar region as almonds and can bloom before or during almond bloom. In addition, beekeepers in the northeastern part of the country can have access to plenty of natural forage during almond bloom, allowing beekeepers to begin honey production as an alternative to collecting pollination fees. This will likely lead almond growers to raise prices for pollination in to meet their quotas and provide an incentive for beekeepers to skip out on early season honey revenue.