TASMANIA is standing as one of the last pure beekeeping bastions in a global honey fight.
However, Patersonia beekeeper Brian Medcraft says it's probably only a matter of time before the Varroa mite hits the state.
The mite has already swept through the US, Britain and New Zealand, wiping out bee populations, devastating farmers and threatening food supplies, with Australia the only beekeeping country that has not been hit.
Mr Medcraft said most beekeepers agreed it was inevitable the mite would reach Australia, it was simply a question of when.
``Everyone says it's going to happen sooner or later. It's going to happen, and there will be an impact on local areas, with fruit trees and crops relying on beekeepers for pollination all over the place,'' Mr Medcraft said.
``We know that if things go bad, there will be a bad effect on food crops, and there is some responsibility to maintain our bees to help where necessary.''
Mr Medcraft is one of a growing band of hobby beekeepers setting up hives in backyards, on balconies and rooftops.
In almost two decades of beekeeping he's acquired 18 hives, which house about 540,000 bees, with the population reaching up to 900,000 in summer.
``I guess for me it's about being able to make my own fresh honey, but bees are also fascinating animals - their social structure, and the hierarchy that exists within the hive, is really interesting to watch,'' he said.
``I'm also a farmer and I grow my own heritage apple trees, so it's great to have my own bees to pollinate the trees and my pasture.''
Fellow hobby beekeeper Charles Trafford, of Burnie, said he had made a particular effort to teach people beekeeping, as he wanted to ensure his grandchildren did not suffer the decline of the honey bee.
``In Tasmania, we are 1000 hives short of the state's pollination requirements,'' Mr Trafford said.
``At the moment there are a lot of feral bees in Tasmania, so it's OK, but when the Varroa mite hits, it will knock all the feral bees out.''
While not all beekeepers agree the mite is inevitable in Tasmania, Taverner's Tasmanian Honey owner and Tasmanian Beekeeping Association president Lindsay Bourke said it probably would hit eventually.
Mr Bourke said the honey industry was focused on insuring it didn't spread, with Tasmania soon receiving up to 10 remote sensor monitoring devices for major ports, which were designed to detect the Varroa mite in beehives.
However, he said the biggest challenge for Tasmanian beekeepers was not disease, but the growing demand for pollination services for crops.
``There are 160 beekeepers in Tasmania, with five large commercial beekeepers and five small commercial beekeepers . . . and the commercial beekeepers are all trying to supply more bees next year,'' Mr Bourke said.
``There are so many crops to pollinate, and every year we worry about not having enough to keep up.''
He said a new training program, spearheaded by parliamentary secretary for skills, Paul O'Halloran, would hopefully help meet demand.
The certificate two introductory beekeeping course will be introduced at TasTafe for the first time next year, with students given the opportunity to go on to other primary industries courses.
``We really do need more young people getting involved in the industry - because 58 is the average age of beekeeping staff - and we need more employees to help us get the honey crop and pollinate when the season comes,'' Mr Bourke said.
``This new training will definitely be a big help, because we don't know where we're going to get workers next year.
``If I had one more well-trained staff member, I would be able to have another 300 hives.''
Mr O'Halloran said he hoped the course would help future-proof the industry, with plans also under way to expand a beekeeping program at Burnie High School into North-West primary schools.
``This program is not just about putting hives out, tending to hives, collecting the honey and producing the honey, it's also about disease control,'' Mr O'Halloran said.
``With the Varroa mite, we're disease free from that and that gives us a huge competitive advantage, but we've got a competitive advantage in other areas as well.
``We have unique forest types like sassafras, leatherwood and manuka protected, so the resource is there, and I think beekeeping and honey production is a fantastic niche product to sell to the world.''
Tasmanian Honey Company owner Julian Wolfhagen said the training program, while welcome, would not solve the industry's more immediate problems.
``There's this sort of lack of awareness of the importance of the honey bees, and that is one of the biggest threats to the industry,'' Mr Wolfhagen said.
``We've already got in a position where now, with the 2013-14 season approaching, we've got a lack of hives to pollinate crops - so that has flow on affects for the broader community.
``These crops are in the ground as we speak, the little carrot plants are already growing away there, getting ready for summer.
``Now we have this newly launched training vehicle, but that's years away from delivering training output and we need people this summer.''
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