Beekeepers back genetic improvement to boost honey bee industry performance
Around half of Australian beekeepers desire more information to be made available on the queen bees they purchase, with selection traits and queen bee pedigree at the top of the list.
That’s according to a survey of 196 beekeepers and 11 queen bee breeders recently conducted by the University of Sydney and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) as part of the Australian Government Rural R&D for Profit, Plan Bee Genetic Improvement Program.
The study also found that while overall 64% of beekeepers were happy with the quality of queens they were purchasing, less than half of large commercial beekeepers were happy. According to the study, variations in queen quality, issues around mating and queen longevity were the most cited issues when it came to the quality of queens purchased.
Dr Nadine Chapman, research fellow at the University of Sydney, School of Life and Environmental Sciences and researcher within the Plan Bee Genetic Improvement Program, said the findings will be instrumental in guiding the future of the Plan Bee program.
“Plan Bee is working with queen breeders, beekeepers and growers to build a national honey bee genetic improvement program to elevate the performance of honey bees in Australia and build its value as an industry,” she said.
“Knowing that a significant portion of the industry want higher quality queens reinforces the importance of genetic improvement and what it can deliver.
“We’ve listened to industry and will be analysing the findings to identify areas in which we need to focus the program to ensure we are providing the most value to breeders, beekeepers and growers.”
The study confirms the importance of the Plan Bee Program, with 67% of beekeepers and 73% of queen breeders agreeing that the use of modern genetic techniques as applied to other industries, will increase the chance of a successful breeding program.
The research also provides guidance on what beekeepers consider the most important traits when it comes to the queens they purchase.
Honey production and brood pattern were considered to be the most important traits, followed by chalkbrood resistance, and hygienic behaviour as well as European foulbrood resistance. Interestingly, large commercial beekeepers generally scored traits associated with pest and disease resistance higher than other beekeepers.
According to Dr Chapman this information will support the development of future outputs for the Plan Bee program.
“With feedback from the industry in hand, particularly around the most important traits, we can ensure the program is aligned to the needs of the industry.
“We will be surveying industry later this year and the input of beekeepers and breeders will again be sought. Industry feedback is important and the more responses we have the more confident we can be that the opinions of industry are being represented and that we are being responsive to them.
“It’s our vision that industry insights can then be used to support breeders on their genetic improvement journeys and ultimately boost the productivity and profitability of the entire honey bee and pollination industry.”
The full survey findings are available via the Plan Bee website: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Plan-Bee-Beekeeper-and-Queen-Bee-Survey-Results-2020.pdf
To keep up to date with the Plan Bee project, subscribe to the AgriFutures Honey Bee & Pollination mailing list: https://www.agrifutures.com.au/rural-industries/honey-bee-pollination/?subscribe=1