BEE AWARE: Phil Dunlop inspects his pollination hives on a melon farm in the Lockyer Valley. Photo: Dominic Elsome
BEE AWARE: Phil Dunlop inspects his pollination hives on a melon farm in the Lockyer Valley. Photo: Dominic Elsome

Why honey on toast could become a delicacy in Australia

HONEY lovers should brace for a disappointing start to the new year, with the punishing presence of drought and fires precipitating a honey shortage for 2020.

Philip Dunlop of Dunlop Apiaries has been involved in the honey industry for 16 years, and says this is the worse season he's ever endured.

"I haven't had anything like this before," Mr Dunlop said.

"Normally the creeks have got water in them, and the bees have access to water in the creeks and dams, but they're all dry, so I'm having to cart water to the bees and pollination."

Mr Dunlop manages about 200 hives, and though he operates out of the Lockyer Valley, he has been forced to relocate many of his hives to more coastal areas where some plants are flowering.

"It's meant a 70-80 per cent reduction in supply of honey, and the pollination is probably less than half, because the farmers don't have enough water to grow watermelons," he said.

Recent bushfires have had a detrimental impact on not just Mr Dunlop, but beekeepers interstate as well.

"Some of the areas I work, up in the Glen Rock State Forest, a lot of that property has been burnt in the bushfires. Down in Left Hand Branch, I've got a lot of private property sites there, and that's been burnt," he said.

"They're got the same conditions down in New South Wales as we do in Queensland. A lot of big fires have been in the state forest areas, where a lot of the beekeepers work the honey."

Like those in the horticulture, livestock and a multitude of others industries, Mr Dunlop is counting on significant rainfall to break the drought and turn the situation around.

"Things are pretty desperate at the moment. Until we get some decent rain in the area, there's no prospects for any honey around this area at all," he said.

"The honey supply is just about run out. A lot of the big packers are fining their suppliers pretty tight, so they're increasing their prices, but if you haven't got any honey, it doesn't matter how much it is. I'd say there will be a shortage going into next year."

The first rays of hope may be on the horizon for the industry, with Nationals Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie allocating a $1.5 million grant to AgriFutures Australia, to raise awareness and ensure bee health and longevity.

"It will fund activities to support the Australian honey bee industry and to promote the crucial role the humble bee plays in supporting food production," Ms McKenzie said.

"The role of honey bees in agriculture and horticulture cannot be understated - the annual economic value of honey bee pollination in Australia is $14.2 billion. Pollination is essential for staples like apples and pears, cherries, berries, almonds and canola."

She said it was important for state and national organisations to collaborate on supporting the beekeeping industry.

"AgriFutures Australia will work with the Australian Honey Bee Industry Council and state associations to develop resources and raise awareness among professional beekeepers, recreational beekeepers and the public, about what they can do to help protect our buzzing pollinators," she said.

"We need to arm the beekeeping industry with the additional tools and knowledge they need to support the health of bees into the future and to continue to safeguard against population decline."