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A massive shortage of bee swarms for pollination in orchards is predicted as the growth of the macadamia industry outstrips the availability of hives in the country.

Kobus Visser from the African Honey Bee, a Christian social enterprise that is assisting people in poverty in deep rural areas to learn how to build sustainable micro-beekeeping businesses, said the organisation was now in the process of conducting critical research on the impact of proper beekeeping management in macadamia orchards in Mpumalanga.

The research he said was started last year and was as yet not available to the public.

He said, however, that there was concern as to how demand for beehives in the growing macadamia industry orchards was to be met.

“If you look at the recently published Australian research which suggests three to six hives per hectare, although that is not proven to be the ideal number, so let’s say a minimum of 2 hives per hectare. It has been predicted that the number of hectares under macadamia orchards will increase by 13 000ha in the next year in Mpumalanga alone, that means we need to be able to supply 26 000 hives. And then we haven’t thought about the bees required for avocado orchards, they are also on the increase. It is going to be incredibly difficult for the beekeeping industry to build up to that capacity,” he said.

Visser said the organisation’s research also correlated with the Australian research that showed a significant yield improvement when beehives were placed in well-managed orchards.

“But, it is not just a case of taking the beehives and putting them into the orchards. There is still significant work to be done over the next couple of years, more research and then farmers will have to adopt practices that are bee friendly. The way they manage pesticides for example and how those pesticides impact on the bees,” Visser said.

Andrew Sheard and Rohan Orford from Mayo Macs Technical Services said reducing the pesticide spray impact on bees included constant scouting for pests, choosing the correct pesticides, spray at night when the bees are not active, to stop spraying altogether when the trees were flowering. Also, to make sure the hives were strategically placed in the orchard and that the hives were removed timeously once the trees had stopped flowering.

“Importantly, growers need to know the risk of combining two or more pesticides together, which maybe “bee-safe” on their own, but can be harmful to bees when mixed together. Some pesticides have been shown to be almost twice as toxic to honey bees in the presence of a fungicide,” Sheard said.

In the 2017 season a number of study groups in Kwa-Zulu Natal focused on bee pollination and bee safety. The key pointers that emerged from the studies were improved timing of sprays, increased use of bee-safe products and creating bee habitats on-farm during the off-season to make sure the sustainability and health of the swarms.

Both Sheard and Orford agreed, however, that key to the successful use of bees as pollinators in the industry was to improve communication between beekeepers and the growers.

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