Purple Hives saving lives

Purple Hives saving lives

New technology that monitors beehives is being heralded as a world first.

Australia is the only populated country in the world where bees have not been impacted by the Varroa mite but experts predict it’s only a matter of time before it establishes itself in Australia.

The Varroa mite attaches itself to bees, is known to transmit viruses among them and mainly feeds and reproduces on larvae and pupae in the developing brood.

That causes malformation and weakening of honeybees, decimating honeybee populations overseas.

Local beekeeper and industry advocate, Ian Cane, of Wiseleigh, said the mite would not only impact Australian honey production, but also the many Australian food crops that rely heavily on honeybees for pollination.

“The Varroa mite is the greatest threat we face by a long way as far as pests and parasites go,” Mr Cane said.

“It’s been the biggest threat worldwide for half a century. We’ve just been really lucky in Australia.

“It would cause a huge disruption for crops like carrot seed, celery seed and almonds that depend on bees for pollination.

“Almonds are a billion dollar farmgate industry, no bees no almonds.”   

Mr Cane has acted as an advisor for the Purple Hive Project, an innovative program effectively aimed at ‘future-proofing’ the industry.

It uses technology that includes a solar powered, self-contained unit containing a 360-degree camera.

The camera is connected to a microcomputer, which scans every bee that enters and exits the hive for the presence of Varroa mite.

“To tap into this type of technology is incredibly impressive,” Mr Cane said.

“It’s all about early detection.

“The brilliance of this is the real time data. It will send an alert out immediately if something isn’t right.

“Surveillance for the early detection of the Varroa mite remains crucial to the health of honey bees and honey bee pollination dependent industries – as once the Varroa mite is established, it’s highly unlikely that we will be able to eradicate it.”

The project is an initiative from Bega Cheese, the company having recently diversified into a 100 per cent Australian honey range.

Bega Foods executive general manager, Adam McNamara, said the company acknowl-edged it “all starts with the bees”.

“When we began to develop B honey, we realised the significant threat facing Australia’s honey industry,” Mr McNamara said.

“It was clear we needed to invest in technology and innovation to support the future of our honey bees, Australian beekeepers, and in turn, Australian agriculture.”

Bega believes the Purple Hive Project is a world-first innovation for the honey industry and its long-term vision is to create a network of hives across Australia to support the entire honey industry.

Mr Cane said monitoring current hives for the Varroa mite was a manual, costly and time-consuming process, with hives only inspected every six weeks or two months.

“The Purple Hive Project will be a game-changer for what is currently a painstakingly manual detection process.”

He said the device looked like an old fashioned letterbox and clipped to the front of a hive.

Mr Cane had a hand in trialling the device and building up data, even painstakingly printing one millimetre by 1.5mm 3D images of the mites to stick to more than 100 bees to test the technology.

“Corona virus has set us back a bit but one device is being tested in New Zealand already and hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we get one into the US,” he said.

Still in the developmental phase, Mr Cane hopes the technology will be rolled out to key ports and then become available to industry within a few months.

“Then we can make adaptions for other uses like being able to remotely see how much pollen a hive is receiving,” he said.

“The economic efficiencies will be incredible, instead of driving to hives to manually check them.

“Who knows where technology and innovation like this can take us.”

IMAGE: Local apiarist, Ian Cane, is involved in the Purple Hive Project, a technological advancement that could potentially save the European honeybee in Australia. (PS)