Since the initial detection of varroa mite in biosecurity surveillance hives at the Port of Newcastle more than 12 months ago, Victoria has enforced restrictions prohibiting the movement of bees and bee products from New South Wales in a bid to prevent the deadly parasite from infiltrating the state.

A significant surveillance campaign was also conducted across the state with registered beekeepers required to test and submit data to Agriculture Victoria, government officers and State Quarantine Response Team (SQRT) members, comprising commercial and recreational beekeepers, inspecting thousands of hives.

For the first time since the incursion of the pest was found in June last year, varroa mite has been detected in hives on the Victorian New South Wales border in the Sunraysia region, warranting authorities to establish emergency biosecurity zones.

While no varroa mite has been detected in Victoria, there are growing fears that the recent discovery of varroa mite on the state’s border indicates the invasive pest is likely to spread, creating enormous uncertainty for the state’s agricultural sector.

Varroa mites are tiny red-brown external parasites of adult honey bees that mainly feed and reproduce on larvae and pupae in the developing honey bee brood, causing malformation and weakening of honey bees and transmitting numerous viruses.

Australia is the only significant honey-producing country free from varroa mites. These parasites are considered the greatest threat to Australia’s honey and honeybee pollination plant industries, with estimations that varroa mite could result in losses of $70 million a year should it become established in Australia.

Varroa mite has been detected in hives on the Victorian New South Wales border in the Sunraysia region. Photos: Contributed

The Nationals are demanding immediate action from the state government to protect Victoria’s agriculture industry and honey producers to stop an extensive outbreak of varroa mite in the state, which could catastrophicly impact Gippsland’s honeybee populations and agricultural industries that rely on crop pollination to thrive.

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath, said Australia has had more than 14 months’ notice of this pest being an enormous threat to our agricultural industry.

“The Nationals have warned the Minister for Agriculture that her department must have a comprehensive plan to deploy resources and prevent a widespread varroa mite outbreak in Victoria,” Ms Bath said.

“Last winter, I met with members of the Gippsland Apiarists Association in Wiseleigh, East Gippsland, to discuss industry concerns on the mites possible spread to Victoria and have held recent follow-up conversations.

“Commercial apiarists and honey producers are fearful the Andrews Government hasn’t been sufficiently proactive in early detection and the implementation of control strategies.

“This highly destructive pest has now been detected in Sunraysia on the Victorian border, and the possibility of further spread is significant.”

With the pollination of crops and fruit trees in the state’s horticulture sector as well as home-based fruit and vegetable growers, likely to be compromised if the varroa mite becomes widespread in Victoria, Ms Bath says the state government must focus on assisting commercial apiarists to have world’s best practice on varroa mite mitigation and containment.

“The economic value from the contribution of honeybees in crop production is valued at more than $14 billion nationally and $6 billion annually for Victoria,” she said.

“Given the importance of Victoria’s agriculture industry, the Andrews Government must expand bee biosecurity programs to better protect honeybee colonies and crop pollination.”

The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria, Melina Bath and Ian Cane from the Gippsland Apiarists Association discuss varroa mite outbreak concerns in 2022.

Agriculture Victoria Chief Plant Health Officer Rosa Crnov emphasised that Victoria is committed to the National Response Plan and will continue to undertake surveillance and compliance checks of beekeepers across the state.

“The Victorian Government has worked proactively to minimise the risk of varroa mite entering the state since it was first detected in NSW in 2022,” Ms Crnov said.

“A Control Area Order was immediately put in place to regulate hive movements, and Victoria conducted an extensive surveillance program to ensure the state was free of varroa.

“Victoria has successfully managed two almond pollination seasons, supported beekeepers and pollination-dependent industries, and remains varroa-free.”

Agriculture Victoria continues to incorporate world-class and robust strategies in pest management so the state remains protected, with government and SQRT members set to conduct more surveillance over the coming weeks and months to verify Victoria’s ongoing freedom from varroa mite.

Victoria continues to enforce restrictions on the movement of bees and bee products, with beekeepers only moving into the state under strict permit conditions that require reporting of hive movements and testing of hives.

The number of New South Wales premises infested with varroa mite has now reached 250, with more than 280,000 hives destroyed since the mite was first detected 14 months ago.