DELAYED queen bee grafting has cost Blayney beekeepers Warren and Rose Taylor a whole season of income.
Mr Taylor, who runs 7000 hives as part of his Australian Queen Bee Exporters business, imported 10 queen bees from Canada last November, the first bees to be imported after a ban was implemented seven years ago.
The Canadian exports make up 80 per cent of the Taylor’s total markets, accounting for more than $200,000 of their annual income – income they have not seen this season because of what Mr Taylor claims is “mismanagement” of his hives at the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service’s Eastern Creek facility.
The couple suffered lengthy delays in getting the queens into the post-entry animal quarantine facility at Eastern Creek late last year and further delays in harvesting queen bee larvae have meant the Taylors have missed an entire season of export opportunity.
Mr Taylor said continual delays had also cost his business in fees.
“We’ve been trying to import varroa (mite)-tolerant stock to disseminate before we get the disease but the incompetent handling of this stock along with five breeding queens killed in quarantine via poor management and their failure to provide us with grafting material is costing our business and depriving the entire industry of varroa-tolerant stock,” he said.
While the imported queen bees are never released from quarantine, the larvae can be grafted and grown as normal outside quarantine conditions.
Mr Taylor said larvae grafting should have occurred within 42 days of the queens arriving in Australia.
However, grafting had still not occurred by late January, according to Mr Taylor.
“They’re still charging us to have our bees in there and yet I have nothing to show for it but five dead hives and not a single graft from any of them,” he said.
“When they were unable to provide us with grafting material they phoned (NSW Dep-artment of Primary Industries honeybee expert) Doug Som-erville, who we had recommended to help out with our first imports and the service denied to let him help.”
While the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry could not disclose information particular to Mr Taylor’s case, a spokesman said importers were allowed to graft, subject to payment of fees, and they did, at times, need assistance for imported bees.
“Department of Agriculture apiary officers engage relevant independent experts to ensure that maximum technical expertise is available,” he said.
“Importers must pay for the services the department has provided before being permitted to remove grafted material from their consignment.
“Fees accumulate while the department continues to provide services, such as holding a consignment in the post-entry quarantine facility.
“Fees stop accumulating when the importer requests the department to destroy the consignment.”
Dr Doug Somerville, a technical specialist for honey bees in the DPI, said he had inspected the hives in February and found they were not strong enough to produce grafting material and were still undergoing testing for Africanised genes.
“Keeping bees in cages is a highly specialist art form - it’s very difficult,” he said. “These bees in particular were not strong enough and were found not to be suitable for grafting.”
The need for stock tolerant to varroa mite, not currently found in Australia, was paramount, Dr Somerville said.
“This shipment came from a highly recognised beekeeper and is in very high demand in North America,” he said.
Tests by the University of Sydney’s School of Biological Sciences and the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture found Australian honeybees were highly susceptible to varroa mite.
“It’s imperative to the Australian bee industry Canadian stock be brought in and distributed and that, unfortunately, hasn’t happened.”
Mr Taylor is taking legal action to recoup costs.