Varroa discovery threatens NSW berry production

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Macadamias, berries and avocados could all be at risk from a new varroa mite finding in New South Wales. -AAP Picture

A new Varroa mite detection has been confirmed on the NSW north coast, threatening pollination of berries, avocados and macadamias.

The infested hives were found on a property in Nana Glen, northwest of Coffs Harbour, leading to another set of biosecurity zones for beekeepers and bringing the total of infected premises to 43.

Thirty-two hives have been destroyed on the property, with around 1,800 hives now euthanized since the mite was first detected near Newcastle Harbor on June 22.

NSW Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said while the new detection is worrying it is directly linked to a previous area.

“What this shows is that it’s the human beings moving the beehives that are the big risk here. It’s not the bees here flying great distances, it’s the beehives that are being moved,” said he told AAP.

“This one was moved just before the hive movement lock was put in place.”

The mite is the worst pest the industry could face, said NSW Beekeepers Association President Steve Fuller.

“If we can’t get the bees in to bring down the size of the pollination berries, that means the prices are going to go up in the supermarkets,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.

September is the next pollination, covering a wide area that includes around 80% of berry crops in New South Wales, Mr Fuller said, and everyone must work together to eradicate the mite.

The majority of Australian blueberries are grown on the Coffs Coast, but the area is also a major growing area for other fruit and vegetables, including avocados.

Blueberry and avocado growers say they are concerned about the arrival of the mite in the region.

Paul Shoker, chairman of the Coffs Harbor branch of NSW Farmers, said it was “a little worrying” as pollination time approached, with farmers unable to produce avocados, blueberries or many other crops without bees.

The lawyer urged people to do the right thing.

“Community reporting is an essential part of control measures, and people should continue to report the location of any beehives, whether managed or wild, that they may become aware of,” he said.

A statewide hive shutdown still applies, while movement from the General Biosecurity Emergency Zone is permitted under a permit-based system.

There were around 315,100 bee hives in New South Wales before the mite was detected.

In Australia, the value of bees providing pollination services to agricultural industries is estimated at $14.2 billion.

Mr Saunders is visiting growers in the North Coast region on Tuesday to discuss the impact of the new eradication zone.

The minister again pleaded with beekeepers to register their hives and said there would be no fines for those who had not been registered before.

“The good news is that we can still draw a direct line between each case so far, which means we have the situation well under control,” he said.

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