Plan Bee Project Updates

 

Plan Bee (National Honey Bee Genetic Improvement Program) is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural Research and Development for Profit program. The project is further supported by AgriFutures Australia, the Department of Regional NSW (formerly NSW DPI), University of Sydney, Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, Better Bees WA Inc, Wheen Bee Foundation, CostaGroup, Olam, Beechworth Honey, Monson’s Honey and Pollination, Auston, South Pacific Seeds, and commercial beekeepers.

March 2021: YOUR SAY: What the industry told us about queen bee breeding

Last year we called on the honey bee and queen bee breeding industry to respond to a survey to uncover attitudes around queen bee production and to inform the development and ongoing management of the Plan Bee genetic improvement program.

Today, we’re sharing the findings of that study which point towards a clear and defined purpose for the genetic improvement program.

Some of the key findings of the survey include:

  • Whilst overall 64% of beekeepers were happy with the quality of the queens they were purchasing, less than half of large commercial beekeepers were happy.
  • Variations in queen quality, issues around mating and queen longevity were the most cited issues when it came to the quality of queens purchased.
  • 67% of beekeepers and 73% of queen breeders agree that the use of modern genetic techniques as applied to other industries will increase the chance of a successful breeding program.
  • Honey production and brood pattern are the most important traits for queen bees
  • Chalkbrood resistance, hygienic behavior and European foulbrood resistance were also cited as important traits.

Knowing that a significant portion of the industry want higher quality queens reinforces the importance of genetic improvement and what it can deliver. Not only that but we also have a defined list of the most important traits and the common issues associated with queen bees and it’s this information from industry which will help shape the program moving forward.

The Plan Bee program will result in healthier, more productive bees as queen bee breeders will have new tools to select their own stock for the traits that their customers are interested and this survey is one step towards that goal.

Ultimately, the program will lead to the extension and adoption of selection techniques that have unleashed major productivity gains in other industries like livestock resulting in greater security and prosperity for breeders, beekeepers and pollination industries.

Please be on the lookout for this year’s survey in a few months. Your voice is important and the more responses we have the more confident we can be that the opinions of industry are being represented and that we are being responsive to them.

If you are interested in getting involved with the program please get in touch on 02 93512267, nadine.chapman@sydney.edu.au.

Additionally, once a quarter we will be distributing a special Plan Bee newsletter with specific updates from the project. Please register to receive these updates here: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/honey-bee-pollination/?subscribe=1

The full survey findings are available via the Plan Bee website: Plan Bee 2020 beekeeper and queen bee breeder surveys

October 2020: Plan Bee project survey

So far we have 182 responses to the survey on attitudes toward bee breeding. This survey will help guide the Plan Bee program, so please have your say. The survey is open until the end of October 2020: https://bit.ly/3k0oxmy

If you are a queen producer we have a survey for you too: https://bit.ly/35lkuLd

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October 2020: Just honey? Plan Bee and pollination

Beekeepers are pretty obsessed with honey. Will a genetic improvement program with increased honey production as a key aim deliver benefits to the horticultural industries that are financially supporting the program?

Honey production is seen as an umbrella trait: if colonies are in poor health then they will not produce as much honey as other colonies. Chalkbrood disease is the biggest financial burden to beekeepers due to lost production. Honey production has also been correlated with brood production and foraging activity.

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Photo: Elizabeth Frost and Nadine Chapman collected data on almond pollination with Steve Cunial and his son Charlie.

Large honey bee colonies can produce more honey than two small colonies that have the same number of bees combined as that of the large colony. This is because the workforce can be more efficient. This is also why strong colonies are preferred for pollination services; more workers are free to make more foraging trips.

Improved honey production will support both beekeepers and the industries that rely upon them for pollination. However, there is more to the Plan Bee program than improving honey production.

The apiary at NSW DPI will enable us to investigate other traits related to foraging and pollination and determine if they are correlated with traits already under selection. This will help to inform us if gains in pollination traits can be made by continuing to select for traits that are of interest to beekeepers, or if a shift in focus is required.

Some of the traits that we are interested in are the time and temperature at which colonies initiate foraging, the amount of foraging activity, and the proportion of pollen foragers to other foragers. We will determine if these traits are selectable (heritable), and if they are correlated with other traits such as population, amount of brood, and amount of food stores. We hope to shed more light on management techniques that can improve the value of colonies as pollination units. As some crops need pollen foragers while other crops need nectar foragers it is important to consider if different strategies are needed.

Plan Bee will also strive to have an impact on relationships between pollination contractors and horticulturalists. By better understanding each other’s needs and areas for improvement there can be improved outcomes for everyone.

By Nadine Chapman, reviewed by Elizabeth Frost

October 2020: Avocado fieldwork

Elizabeth Frost and Nadine Chapman recently worked with beekeeper Luke Ainsworth and Craig Boyce from Costa to collect foraging dating in Costa’s avocado fields in Fishermans Reach. The team collected data on the number of pollen and nectar foragers at different times and temperatures, how much weight colonies put on, and colony strength.

Nectar foragers are required for avocado pollination. Each day pollination can only take place when one cultivar’s male flowers are open and the other cultivar’s female flowers are open. So both timing and type of foraging activity is very important. Only 3 avocados are produced for every 1000 flowers, so pollination is a major concern for growers. Hopefully the project can shed some light on how it could be improved. Next season we will increase the number of traits that we investigate, incorporating what we have learned this season.

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Photo: Elizabeth Frost and Nadine Chapman at Costa undertaking avocado fieldwork