Honey pot is empty as the drought smashes beekeepers

Beekeeper Rob Michie outside Tamworth. No honey for eight months and probably none until 2020 - if it rains. No one is immune from the drought. Photo by Rachael Webb.
Beekeeper Rob Michie outside Tamworth. No honey for eight months and probably none until 2020 - if it rains. No one is immune from the drought. Photo by Rachael Webb.

There’s been no honey for Tamworth beekeepers Rob and Raelene Michie since Christmas and it looks like it’ll stay that way for at least another year.

The white box along the middle of NSW didn’t flower this winter, farmers are baling their canola early for fodder, cutting off one of his bees’ honey sources, and his bees are going hungry.

Like farmers with stock, he’ll have to “agist” his bees on the coast for awhile so they won’t die. It’s costly and he doesn’t see anything changing soon.

He’s never seen the honey position so bad in 32 years of beekeeping. His only source of income has been taking his bees down to almond plantations in the Riverina where he is paid to help with pollination.

“They need us, no bees, no almonds,” he says.

He says the waiving of the public lease fees by the NSW Government for his bee hive sites is tremendous  – saving him about $20,000 a year.

“But things are so bad I don’t see many beekeepers coming out the other end of this drought,” he says.

He knows of beekeepers trying to work bees right out to Cobar, but the eucalypts didn’t flower this year due to the drought.

“The white box needs rain at a certain time of year otherwise it doesn’t bud,’’ he says. “I’ve even seen trees here near Tamworth I would say that are 150 years old, die.”

The silverleaf ironbark and the inland bloodwood have also not flowered out at Warialda and Bingara. 

“Some long-term forecasters say we won’t get good rain until  next June. But it doesn’t matter even if it rains now for us.

“The trees won’t flower again for maybe until next autumn (2020). It’s going to be a long stretch for beekeepers. Our prospects are nil, absolutely nil.” 

He’ll take some bees to the far North Coast where he’s heard there’s a bit of flower growth, but expects there to be many beekeepers there.

Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, said as an avid hobby beekeeper himself, he understands how tough the drought can be on bee populations and pollen availability.

“It isn’t just cropping or livestock farming that is impacted by drought, it is being felt industrywide,” Mr Blair said. 

“In the case of bees, we estimate there will be a 30 to 40 per cent reduction in honey production in NSW this year. Bees are critical to our wider agricultural industry, with the pollination service worth an estimated $4-6 billion to the Australian economy annually.

“By waiving fees for commercial beekeepers on public land, we ease the burden for those apiarists, who make up some 40 per cent of all commercial beekeepers.” 

Fees for permit renewals in 2018-19 will be waived. Those beekeepers who have already renewed their permit will either receive a refund or will be provided with a credit for the 19-20 financial year.