4 May 2009

Embattled bee industry pleads for funding

3:28 pm on 4 May 2009

The bee industry says it is being being shortchanged in research funding at a time when it is fighting the biggest threat to its existence, the varroa parasite.

The varroa honey bee parasite, discovered in the North Island eight years ago, and now spreading rapidly through the South Island, has forced some beekeepers out of business.

Those still operating are having to apply expensive chemical treatments to hives in order to to keep the bees alive, knowing that eventually the varroa will become resistant to those chemicals.

Scientists have been focusing their efforts on finding non-chemical treatments for varroa, making bees themselves more resistant to the parasite, and searching for new ways of pollinating crops.

Dr Mark Goodwin, who leads the Plant and Food Research Institute's honey bee team at Ruakura, says they are having to do that with funding of less than $1 million a year.

Of that, between $100,000 and $200,000 comes from MAF's sustainable farming fund, while the bulk is from the bee industry itself.

He says the small team able to concentrate only on tackling the varroa mite, and in the mean time has lost its Foundation for Research, Science and Technology funding.

Agriculture Minister David Carter agrees that current funding for honey bee research does not reflect the sector's economic importance.

He says there may be a case to reconsider the criteria used by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology in funding bee research.

Mr Carter says the planned replacement for the Fast Forward Fund, to be announced in the 28 May budget, may be another avenue for funding.

Aside from honey production, the honey bee is the main pollinator of fruit and vegetable crops, a role estimated to be worth $3 billion annually to the national economy.