The wildfires that swept across Australia’s east and south killed millions of bees and destroyed vast tracts of forest where the insects feed. This puts the country’s almond and honey production at risk.
Bees play a crucial role in the nation’s multi-billion dollar horticulture industry, pollinating not just almonds but fruit, including apples, pears and cherries. Australia is the world’s second-largest producer of almonds and growers are already grappling with years of drought.
The fires destroyed about 6,000 hives in New South Wales state alone, according to NSW Apiarists Association President Stephen Targett, with other hives experiencing stock losses as bees perished or were lost in thick smoke. “In a normal season we could replace those, but we’re far from normal. We’re in drought.” Five million hectares of eucalyptus forest where bees feed have also been razed, leaving beekeepers scrambling for sugar syrup or pollen substitute to nourish their stock, he said.
In South Australia, more than 2,000 hives were reported destroyed in fires on Kangaroo Island, in the Adelaide Hills and in the state’s southeast, as of Jan. 17, according to the state’s primary industry department. All told, honey bee pollination is worth an estimated $6 billion annually to the Australian economy, according to estimates in a 2014 parliamentary report.
With honey output poised to take a hit, some beekeepers are likely to leave the industry, according to Targett. “We predict honey production in New South Wales could be at least 30% below the historical average for 10 years.”