Varroa mite incursion in NSW – Status Update

Current Situation

The NSW Government continues to work through its emergency response to a varroa mite (Varroa destructor) incursion in New South Wales. As of 8 February 2023, there are 112 premises which have had bees infested with varroa mite. Four new detections of Varroa were recently confirmed from properties at Allworth, Hilldale and Vacy in the Hunter, and Tumbi Umbi on the Central Coast. The case at Allworth is the only one of these new cases that falls outside of the boundary of the red zone ( see zone map below). The new detections were made through analysis of sticky mats collected during ongoing surveillance.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries continues with the eradication program with a focus on the red eradication zones around Newcastle, the Hunter and Nana Glen areas. Eradication activities have been completed at Jerrys Plains, Narrabri, Denman and Wards River.

On 20 January 2023, all states and territories agreed that the NSW General Emergency Zone, or blue zone, based on the negative surveillance data, is declared free of varroa mite. This meets World Organisation for Animal Health requirements for Proof of Freedom. The agreement is a step towards enabling beekeepers in the blue zone to resume business and apply for permits to move managed hives across state borders.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) continues to meet as the response progresses. The committee remains of the opinion that eradication of Varroa destructor is technically feasible based on the response and current information available.

The National Management Group endorsed a Response Plan, which covers up to $45 million for the initial phase of response activities. This cost is shared between the Australian, state and territory governments, and affected industry parties. Avocados Australia is preparing a Business Case that will outline how the industry will pay for its contribution, once finalised, this will be communicated with industry for consideration.

See Coloured Zones map below:

 

Bait stations for wild European honey bees in action at Nana Glen, Narrabri and Newcastle. Second round of baiting in Jerrys Plains concluded last week and a second round for Denman commenced this week.

Euthanasia and disposal teams are continuing to work within the red eradication zones around Newcastle/Hunter areas with most of this work currently in the area of Tumbi Umbi.

Avocados Australia (AAL) recommends that avocado growers – who use commercial beehives for pollination – stay in regular contact with beekeepers in case of any changes.


Where to now

The varroa mite incursion can impact all Australian Avocado growers so staying informed about the status of the eradication response is important. AAL calls on all Australian growers to support the varroa mite eradication process.  Categorisation of this pest is being finalised now. AAL will communicate the details to industry when it is announced. Once the categorisation has been confirmed work will begin on developing a Business Plan that details the eradication response including the related costs.

DPI, Local Land Services, NSW Police, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW EPA, NSW National Parks and Wildlife and the wider community are all working together to assist the apiary industry to arrest the spread of the parasite.

The NSW Government has worked in consultation with the apiary and horticultural industries in NSW to carefully develop a plan through a risk-based approach. This enables critical business continuity and pollination services for commercial beekeepers and broader agricultural industries.

Avocados Australia – Part of the Response & Informing Industry

As you may be aware, Avocados Australia (AAL) is responsible for representing the Australian avocado industry on biosecurity matters. AAL is continuing to have input into the eradication response and as part of that process we heard about New Zealand’s experiences dealing with their varroa mite incursion. This incursion may have a significant impact on avocado growers, either through: 1) The cost sharing of the eradication, or 2) If eradication is not possible, through the loss of free pollination from wild European Honey Bees and increased cost of managed hives.

Under the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD) (in which AAL is a signatory) where there is an incident of an exotic pest or disease (or complex) the Australian Avocado industry may be listed as an ‘affected party’. If so, AAL then becomes involved in the overall management of that incident and participates in the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) and the National Management Group (NMG).

Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) has devastated bee populations in countries overseas, including New Zealand. In New Zealand now, wild bee populations are decimated and growers there are almost entirely reliant on using commercial crop pollination services. It is for this reason that AAL feels that it is necessary to contribute the financial resources required to eradicate varroa mite from Australia. Discussions are in progress to determine the categorisation of varroa mite which will in turn determine the exact financial commitment required. Until then, AAL wishes to keep industry informed.

AAL is continuing to have input into the eradication response and as part of that process we heard about New Zealand’s experiences dealing with their varroa mite incursion. AAL recommends that Australian avocado growers view a video that outlines the impact of Varroa destructor on the New Zealand bee and pollination industries here.

In short, the two New Zealand representatives that appear in the video strongly recommend that Australia eradicate varroa mite swiftly while there is a definitive boundary (marked by defined zones) and an epicentre. In New Zealand the varroa mite incursion eradication response was hampered by the fact that they couldn’t get the definitive boundary, they didn’t have the definitive links, and couldn’t get “traceability”. Australia’s eradication efforts therefore have an excellent chance at being effective.

For more information about the NSW DPI response visit the website: here.


This article appears as part of the Guacamole 27 January 2023 edition.

Author: Anna Petrou
Date Published: 04/08/2022