European honeybees (Apis mellifera) are the most common species of bee used for beekeeping in Australia. Honeybees are kept primarily for honey, bees wax, package bees and, increasingly, to provide pollination services for food and seed crops.
Commercial beekeeping is carried out predominantly along the south east coast of Australia, although it is not exclusive to this area. Australian honey is typically high quality and commands a significant price premium compared to honey from other countries. In 2011, a third of Australian honeybee products were exported. Key export markets include the United Kingdom, Indonesia, North America and Saudi Arabia. According to the ABS figures for the first three quarters of 2013 the top 6 countries to which Australia exported honey are Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Canada, UK and Malaysia
A honeybee colony consists of worker bees, drones and a queen bee; each are visually distinct and play separate roles in the hive. Worker bees play the biggest role because they collect food for the colony and maintain the hive.
Approximately 70% of Australian honey is produced using nectar from native plants. Some commercial crops, such as almonds, rely on bee pollination for crop production which has led to an increasing demand for pollination services.
The peak industry body for honeybees in Australia is The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and there are also state and amateur associations.
Honeybee facts and figures
- Australian honey is consumed in more than 38 countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Canada, UK and Malaysia
- In 2012, the honeybee industry’s gross value of production was AU$79 million
- As at 2012 there were approximately 10,000 registered beekeepers across Australia producing up to 30,000 tonnes of honey annually
- Honeybees communicate the location and type of food resources through complex movements and chemical signals
As at 2012 there were approximately 10,000 registered beekeepers across Australia producing between 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes of honey annually. Bees also contribute to the Australian economy, indirectly, through free pollination services. As at 2013 honeybee pollination was predicted to be worth between AU$4-6 billion to the economy. As at 2013, a fifth of commercial beekeepers were engaged in paid pollination services.
In 2013, the majority of registered beekeepers were in New South Wales (33%) while the rest were in Queensland (31%), Victoria (15%), Western Australia (10%), South Australia (8%) and Tasmania (3%). Most commercial beekeepers keep between 400 and 800 hives, although some have over 3,000.