Stories like this aren’t going away anytime soon
When you hear the word livestock, you don’t immediately think of honeybees, or at least I certainly didn’t before speaking with local honey producer Vicki Lockwood at Goldfield Honey.
But to honey producers, bees are just as much livestock as cows are to dairy farmers or sheep to graziers. And at the moment, just like primary producers all across Eastern Australia, our beekeepers too are struggling with the unprecedented drought.
The lack of rain has meant fewer crops to pollinate and native trees aren’t getting the water they need to flower and produce the pollen and nectar vital to bees thriving.
“The drought does have a huge effect on us. To keep our bees in optimum condition we have to supplementary feed them pollen, which we import from the United States, and we have to also feed them sugar syrup, because there is no nectar — it is a huge expense,” said Vicki.
“We just need good rain like everyone else”
Founded by Vicki’s late husband Grant Lockwood, Goldfields Honey has grown from a small family operation with 50 hives to now be one of the largest beekeepers in Australia running approximately 8,000 hives.
Still run by Vicki and her four children, Goldfields Honey employs about 30 people, but the drought is taking its toll and has had a significant impact on honey production.
“The drought has a huge effect of the total volume of honey,” said Vicki. “We have to look at value adding through our shop. We have contracts that we have to maintain, so if we don't produce the honey, we have to try to buy it in from other states.”
This year they have also had to ‘agist’ their bees, trucking them up near Maryvale in Queensland.
“We rented some land off the QLD State Forests and put our bees up there because the conditions were better. Logistically, it is a huge cost but, I guess unlike other farming, we do have the ability to pick our livestock up and move them to better conditions.”
As well as producing honey, beehives are also rented out to pollinate crops, with Australia’s growing almond industry putting bees in high demand.
“Almond Pollination is the biggest migration of livestock that happens in Australia,” said Vicki. “In excess of 200,000 beehives go into pollinating the almond crops every August and they come from Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
“Historically, pollination was a very, very small part of our income but now because of the almond industry we concentrate on pollination a lot more.”
Normally, after the almond pollination the bees would be brought back to the Central West to work local canola crops, but again the drought is wreaking havoc.
“A lot of those crops haven’t been planted. Normally, we’d get nectar and pollen from them and Canola Honey and Pollen for breeding to start spring off, but obviously there’s been no rain and the canola isn't looking great,” said Vicki.
“And after that, we usually come into a eucalypt flow, but the trees are not going to produce nectar if it doesn’t rain… we just need good rain like everyone else.”