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Building relationships between beekeepers and blueberry growers

North Coast Local Land Services recently held accredited training for local blueberry growers and industry advisors who use the services of commercial beekeepers to pollinate their crops.

The accredited course “Managing bees for pollination” was delivered by apiary specialists from the NSW Department of Primary Industries. Local beekeeping trainees were also at the course as part of their training, which added another dimension to the discussions during the day. Participants learned about basic bee biology and pollination behaviour, bee nutrition and pests and diseases.  They also learned how to assess hive strength and negotiate pollination agreements with professional apiarists.

Julie Dart, Senior Land Services Officer, said, “The aim of the course is to encourage growers and beekeepers to work together to achieve optimum crop pollination whilst protecting managed bee health in the orchard environment.

“It was positive to see that nearly all of the major local blueberry growing and marketing companies and co-operatives sent representatives to the training day,” Julie said.

North Coast Local Land Services offered subsidised fees for local berry growers and commercial apiarists willing to offer pollination services with funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

While growers have traditionally relied on local wild bees present in the environment, there is an opportunity to increase yields through using professional pollination services.  Ideally growers should plan for pollination services when setting up a farm, and consider how to integrate bees safely in the orchard.

Bee-keepers running pollination services in orchards have to manage biosecurity, environmental and human risks to the health of their bees. Growers need to ensure that they can negotiate a suitable pollination agreement that ensures that they have hives of good health and strength that will properly work their crops.

Pollinating blueberries is a challenging job as blueberries have a long bloom period and their nectar and pollen is not as nutritious as other crops.  Bees require a varied diet for good nutrition and health. Maintaining good quality natural bushland near blueberry farms provides alternative nectar and pollen to the bees which support bee health, and provides other environmental benefits.

Growers can also protect managed hives by being careful with the types of chemicals used on their farms.  Bee health can be affected by herbicides, fungicides as well as insecticides and it is essential that growers who hire bees regularly communicate with their beekeeper about intended chemical use.

Blueberry and protected cropping growers interested in future workshops and activities can register their details with Julie Dart, Senior Land Services Officer at Coffs Harbour by phone 6659 9406 or email.

Media contact:             Julie Dart, Senior Land Services Officer Phone: 6659 9406 or 0427 007 501

Image caption:            Participants at the recent course.