BEEKEEPING is a growing industry under stress in WA.
"Economically this was signalled as far back as 2016 when the Federal government released its analysis of the 2014-15 industry survey," said The University of Western Australia associate professor Ben White.
From the small sample of WA commercial beekeepers who completed the survey, low levels of profitability were indicated.
The economic stress is partly due to a decline in flowering events in native vegetation due to long-term environment changes and human impact through bushfires, logging and urban expansion.
"If you start off with the Swan Coastal Plain, which is what beekeepers depend on over-winter and build honey bee numbers prior to honey production and the pollination season, that region is being lost to frequent bushfires and urban developments at a fairly steady rate," professor White said.
"Then looking at critical honey production vegetation such as jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) and red gum/marri (Corymbia calophylla), the mainstay of WA honey production, the forests they are located in have lost their flowering maturity due to continued logging together with a legislated increase in prescribed burning and a reduction in long-term rainfall.
"The karri forest in the heart of the South West, that used to produce honey for nine months at a time and holds the world record for honey production per hive, has almost been completely lost as a resource for beekeepers and hasn't had a major flowering event for 10 years."
Professor White said this was an indication of severe stress.
"If a tree isn't flowering, basically it's not thriving and beekeepers are having to move further and more frequently, increasing their costs and reducing their revenue," he said.
Concerns of commercial beekeepers have led the Co-operative Research Centre for Honey Bee Products (CRCHBP) to conduct a research project to understand the state of the industry use of available natural resources.
The research aims to update the last comprehensive questionnaire of this type undertaken more than 30 years ago by the WA Department of Agriculture to provide a snapshot of the industry in 2020-21.
Led by professor White and research assistant Cheryl Day, the survey is inclusive of all beekeeper interests from hobbyists and amateurs through to current and retired commercial beekeepers.
"Without data for evidence-based policy analysis, particularly for decisions about public land management for commercial beekeepers, we are going to progressively lose honey production in WA and also agricultural pollination capacity," professor White said.
"This will have a knock-on effect on other industries that rely on pollination services.
"Without access to native vegetation, pollination will be become more expensive as the alternative will be to feed the bees artificial nectar and pollen substitutes."
The fastest growing sector of the industry is the backyard, hobbyist beekeeper.
CRCHBP chief executive officer Liz Barbour said the number of beekeepers in WA has grown exponentially since the arrival of the Flow Hive in 2015.
"The Flow Hive is a hive design that simplifies the extraction of honey," Dr Barbour said.
"Generally it is thought that hobbyists are doing a good thing for the industry, but their present influence is totally unknown."
Of the 4000 beekeepers in WA, it is estimated that only 50 of these run commercial operations.
There is much unknown about hive distribution, use of natural resources, honey production and sales across the industry.
Beekeeper responses to the questionnaire have been good so far.
However, professor White and Dr Barbour said a greater response rate was needed to provide a more accurate picture to inform the future of the industry and protect essential resources.
The questionnaire is anonymous and is applicable to all beekeepers, with the time spent on the survey dependent of the size of the beekeeping operation.
For hobbyists, it will take about 10 minutes to complete and will ask questions such as how many hives you have, where they're located, how much honey you're producing and where you sell your honey.
For part-time beekeepers, the survey will take 15-30 minutes and it will also ask where you take your hives to (regions) and historical production figures.
For commercial beekeepers, there is more detail and will take 45-90 minutes.
It will look into which regions you use for honey production and pollination, and the importance of those regions; distances travelled and species used; the fee you charge for pollination services; how many hives you have and impact of logging and/or fires.
The questionnaire can be accessed via crchoneybeeproducts. com/natural-resources-for-beekeepers-2020-21-questionnaire-hbpcrc-uwa/