Keepers stung by weather

Beekeepers have faced a challenging summer with windy and cool weather causing widespread...
Beekeepers have faced a challenging summer with windy and cool weather causing widespread problems. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
It is not just holidaymakers that have been complaining about the summer weather - bees are also not happy campers.

For many South Island pastoral beekeepers, crops were going to be a ''disaster'' in the majority of areas and they were probably not going to produce enough to break even when it came to running costs for the last 12 months, Federated Farmers bees industry group chairman John Hartnell said.

Windy and cool weather had caused widespread problems for the industry, particularly through most of the South Island and the east coast of the North Island.

Mr Hartnell, from Canterbury, was hearing production figures of about 15kg a hive, when it would normally be between 35kg and 40kg.

If it was too cold, then the nectar did not run up into the clover head and the flower did not yield. Strong winds meant that bees would head out to forage but often could not get home again, he said.

While beekeepers have had such challenging seasons before, it was unusual that it was across such a large area. Often, there was a ''regional pocket'' with challenges.

People needed to understand that beekeeping was different from other farming industries, Mr Hartnell said.

''If you're a sheep or beef farmer, you'll put the bull or ram out and get a lamb or calf. The weather will determine how fat it gets when you sell it by the amount of grass available. We don't have that luxury. We totally rely on mother nature to provide the nectar.''

The costs involved with the varroa mite would also not go away and beekeepers could not afford to not fund varroa treatment, he said.

Central Otago beekeeper Michael Vercoe agreed conditions had been poor for bees. The problem was that in the past, if there was a very mild autumn, beekeepers could probably ''get a bit of a late flow''.

But now, when they had to treat for varroa, they could not be treating for varroa and collecting honey for human consumption at the same time.

While Mr Vercoe had a good thyme crop this year, he reckoned his white clover honey could be down at least 50%.

He was philosophical about the difficult season, saying beekeeping was ''a game of swings and roundabouts''.


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