Even the pandemic won’t stop 9 billion bees from pollinating Victoria’s almond tree blossoms. In the dark of night, when most people are asleep, a mass migration of bees is underway right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is the start of almond pollination season in Australia. Almonds are a billion-dollar industry that relies on bees for pollination, and the six-week almond flowering period is about to begin. Australian almonds enjoy a huge market in India, Asia and Europe.
This year, according to ABC Australia, 227,000 hives containing more than 9 billion bees, are heading to Victoria’s almond orchards. Each truck will transport between 1 – 2 million bees. The hives will be dropped off at the almond orchards.
What a struggle Australia’s bees have had during the past few years between droughts, fires, floods and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to mention the “normal” difficulties bees face every day around the world—colony collapse disorder, water and wildflower shortages, climate change, habitat loss and deadly insecticides and pesticides.
This spirited and indomitable species of insects refuses to be kept down for long. More bees than ever, billions of bees, are now making the annual trip to the almond orchards of northwest Victoria.
In Australia, bees are classified as livestock by the Australian Taxation Office. The industry has worked with governments so there will be no restrictions between borders that could cause major delays to apiarists and bees, so they can safely cross COVID-19 era checkpoints.
According to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, it is essential that pollination services are allowed to happen as necessary. Without bee pollination, the nuts would not set on the almond trees and crops would fail.
This 2:11-minute long video shows some of the hardships Australian bees and their beekeepers have experienced recently:
Twice as many Queensland professional beekeepers are booked for this year’s almond flowering pollination season compared to last year. It has been a rough time for many of them, and a quarter of the state’s apiarists were hit by bushfires and droughts, and saw their incomes slashed. They are counting on the success of their pollination services.
Longtime Queensland beekeeper Rex Carruthers saw the potential in pollination from early on and has been trucking his beehives for pollination for 16 years. He learned that depending on honey alone can be a risky business so diversified to create three income streams—honey, pollination and selling bees.
Jo Martin, the Queensland Beekeepers Association State Secretary, indicated that the last month has been very challenging pulling all the loose ends together and keeping apiarists current on border requirements. COVID has caused some changes to the way things used to be done.
Problems arise no matter what. Up to seven inches of heavy rains fell right where the bees are located. Some beekeepers opted out due to the virus, but not enough to create a serious shortage. New biosecurity rules implemented in early July caused about 5,000 hives to drop out due to missing paperwork that could cause beekeepers to be fined.
Mr. Monson, a bee broker for over 40 years, is pleased with the health and well being of the bees, especially considering what they have been through with drought and bushfires. He finds the quality of bees to be the best he has ever seen. This reflects well on the apiarists and the care and feed the bees have received, since the drought severely reduced the amount of nectar available in the wild.
Hopefully this pollination season will help heal the tragedies and losses many Australian bees and beekeepers have been through and get them back on their feet as well as boosting local residents and the economy with a bountiful almond crop.