Beekeeping in Australia is a commercial industry with around 12,000 registered beekeepers owning over 520,000 hives by 2013-2014. Most are to be found in the eastern mainland states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
Beekeepers or apiarists, and their bees, produce honey, beeswax, package bees, queen bee pollen, royal jelly and provide pollination services for fruit trees and a variety of ground crops. These pollination services to agriculture alone are valued at between 8 and 19 billion Australian dollars a year.
Australia is the fourth largest honey exporting nation after China, Argentina and Mexico. The high quality and unique flavours of Australian honey allows exporters to charge a premium price.
There are also beekeeping hobbyists in Australia who produce honey for home consumption or to be made into products, such as mead. A few are involved in domesticating native bees.
Prior to European settlement Australian aboriginals consumed “sugarbag”, honey from native bees. There are over 1,500 species of native bees. Some are social while others live alone. Most Australian native bees are either stingless or their stings are not generally dangerous to humans. However, native bees generally don’t produce a large amount of honey.
Introduction of European bees
The first imported honey bees to be successfully acclimatized in Australia were in seven hives that arrived on the convict transport ship Isabella which reached Sydney in March 1822. Dr T.B. Wilson RN, surgeon-superintendent on the convict transport John that arrived Hobart on 28 January 1831 brought the first honey-bees to Tasmania.
Later, other species were introduced from Italy, Yugoslavia, and North America. The milder climate in Australia meant less honey had to be left in the hive to feed the bees through winter compared to Europe and North America.
Tasmanian Leatherwood (Eucryphia Lucida) trees provide a popular type of Australian honey
Australian farmers wishing to diversify and develop additional sources of income in the nineteenth century sometimes turned to bee-keeping as a side-line. A row of gin cases on a rural property was a sign that bee-farming was in progress as they were frequently used as bee hives. Bee-keeping remained largely a part-time activity for farmers and people living on the outskirts of towns and cities till dedicated full-time beekeepers began to emerge.
The British author Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) visited Australia in 1871 and commented on the popularity of honey as a favourite food.
The wild bee of the country is not nearly so common as the much more generous and busier bee from Europe,- with which the bush many miles from the coast is already so plentifully filled that honey is a customary delicacy with all the settlers.
In February 1903, Victorian bee-farmer Thomas Bolton (1863-1928) questioned the wisdom of clearing the forest in the Dunkeld area of the Western District. He said the blossom from the trees was annually converted by bees into honey worth £150 per square mile of forest. The land was being cleared to create grazing pastures for sheep which he claimed annually returned just £80 per square mile. Bolton sent a test shipment of honey to China early in the 20th century. “The ships company thought so highly of his honey that empty cases were they only part of the consignment left when the ship reached port.”
The export of honey may have started in 1845 when an experimental shipment of honey and honeycomb was shipped from New South Wales to Britain in wooden casks.
The production of honey and bees-wax fluctuates greatly and is determined by the flow of nectar from flora, particularly from the eucalypts, which varies greatly from year to year. Production in 1948-49 was 53,200,000 lbs (24,152,800 kg), a record high. The average returns from productive hives in 1958-59 was 103 lb. (46.8 kgs) of honey per hive and the average quantity of wax was 1.3 lb. (.59 kg) per productive hive. Australia had 451,000 hives in 1958-59 of which 315,000 were regarded as productive. Total production during that period from all hives was 32,487,000 lbs (15,723,708 kg) with a gross value of £1,803,000. The amount of bees wax produced in 1958-59 was 417,000 lbs (189,318 kg) worth £105,000.
Victoria has long been one of the main honey producing states. In 1971, there were 1,278 registered beekeepers in the state with 103,454 hives that produced 9,804,000 lbs of honey worth $984,000, plus 120,000 lbs of beeswax valued at $68,000.
About 70% of Australian honey comes from nectar from native plants. Demand for pollination services for almonds and other crops is growing.
Bee-brokers co-ordinate bee-keepers for pollination services to crops, such as almonds.
The species most commonly used for bee keeping in Australia are European bees (Apis mellifera). Most commercial bee keepers have between 400 and 800 hives, but some large operators have up to 10,000.
Australia produces 25,000 to 30,000 tonnes of honey annually, worth 4 to 6 billion dollars (Au). Some is marketed as being from a single flowering species while other honey is produced from multiple types of flowering plants. Popular types of honey include Leatherwood, Blue Gum, Yellow Box and Karri, each named after the trees that produce the pollen and nectar gathered by the bees. The purity, taste and variety of Australian honey makes it popular in Asia and elsewhere.
Diseases and parasites
In New South Wales in 1889 The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser uses a leaflet from the Beekeepers’ Association of South Australia to outline how to recognise American foul brood (caused by Bacillus alvei) in a hive and how to treat it. In South Australia, by 1891 an article in the South Australian Chronicle indicates that there was already an act in that state to attempt to control the spread of American foul brood.
Small hive beetle
The Varroa Mite (Varroa destructor) is a dangerous parasite that causes the honeybee population of hives to collapse. It is not yet present in Australia but it remains a threat.
Source: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekeeping_in_Australia#:~:text=Beekeeping%20in%20Australia%20is%20a,520%2C000%20hives%20by%202013%2D2014.&text=There%20are%20also%20beekeeping%20hobbyists,involved%20in%20domesticating%20native%20bees.