Industry the bee's knees for state

TASMANIA'S honey is worth nearly $9 million a year to the state, research from the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation shows.

But that pales into insignificance when compared with the $140 to $210 million value bees bring to Tasmanian agriculture.

Research has found that the 2010-11 commercial honey production contributed $8.5 million and although Tasmania had just 2 per cent of Australia's registered beekeepers, it produced 4 per cent of the country's honey.

It was also found that Tasmania's beekeepers received the highest average price for their honey - Tasmanian honey producers can provide premium products, like Manuka and Leatherwood honey, that the broader Australian market could not easily offer.

Crop pollination, both paid - through beekeepers - and unpaid - through feral bee activity - were of enormous benefit to the economy.

The corporation found that 35 industries are dependent on honey bee pollination for most of their production, but due to the large number of feral honey bees in Australia, only a small proportion managed the process through paid services.

Although very difficult to accurately quantify, the value of these free pollination services would dwarf the value of honey production and paid pollination, the corporation found.

Tasmanian crops highly dependent on bee pollination include carrots, cherries, apples, apricots, onions, brassicas, canola, lucerne and clover.

The corporation, in 2007, estimated that honey bees contributed directly to between $4 billion and $6 billion of agricultural production in Australia.

As Tasmania accounts for 3 per cent of the gross value of Australia's agricultural production, the corporation estimated that honey bees were responsible for between $120 to 180 million worth of agricultural production in Tasmania in 2007, which, assuming a 3 per cent growth rate, would now be about $140 to 210 million.

But former Tasmanian Crop Pollinating Association president John Siermicki, of Frankford, said that the honey industry, and the agricultural products that rely on bees for abundant pollination, would be put at risk should commercial GM crops be allowed in Tasmania.

"We can't export our honey into the EU if it's within five kilometres of a GM crop and we have to sign a statutory declaration to that effect," he said.

"People buy Tasmanian honey because it's pure - they do not want it contaminated with genetically modified organisms.

"So if people stop buying our honey, we will no longer be able to provide pollination services at current rates - at the moment, we can offer heavily subsidised rates because the honey is our main money earner.

"If we lose that, the cost of pollination services would skyrocket - my business is currently 70 per cent honey sales and 30 per cent pollination."

Mr Siermicki said that he had never spoken out before, but felt compelled to because of the Macquarie Franklin report into market advantages of Tasmania's GMO-free status.

"The report (page 50) says that the sectors of the food industry identified for significant growth - dairy, salmon and soft fruit - do not benefit from Tasmania's GMO-free status," he said.

"I would have thought that loss of $140-$210 million in Tasmanian agricultural production, as identified by RIRDC, was an economic benefit worth keeping, but it isn't mentioned.

"It's disturbing that there's nothing in the Macquarie Franklin report that refers to the potential effect of GMOs on the honey, bee or pollinating industry."

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