A strong and secure Victorian bee population and beekeeping industry through habitat, policy and collaboration
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Victoria is a southern state of Australia with an area of 227,000 km2. We’ve chosen our key ‘Good Food Ecosystem’ corridor of Melbourne and Central Victoria. It comprises 93,000 km2 and in 2018 had a population of 6.1 million.
There are five main regional cities – Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and Wodonga and numerous small country towns across the 29 Rural local government regions. Many farmers are doing it tough and being forced to leave the land or continue with subsistence farming.
As a southern state we have a cooler and very defined climate of seasons with hot dry summers and cold wet winters (but no snow to speak of).
Greater Melbourne often wins the awards as one of the world’s most liveable cities. It’s an affluent cosmopolitan city that had its first European settlement in 1803. It had a very wealthy period in the 1880s with the discovery of gold and has thrived thanks to the influx of migrants. Originally predominately a British population, In the 1950s many Italians and Greeks settled (and Melbourne is still the third highest population of Greeks outside of Greece), then the Vietnamese in the 70s, and more recently Chinese and Indians. Victoria also has communities from practically all countries of the world, and with then their food heritage has infused our society.
Rural Central Victoria is very dependent upon pollination with crops including almonds and apples. The yields of these crops are adversely affected with insufficient pollination
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Australia is the fourth largest exporter of honey in the world after China, Argentina and Mexico. The majority of this industry is in North Central Victoria. North Central Victoria is also the food bowl of Victoria and responsible for much of Australia’s fruit, vegetable and nut local and export supply.
This sector of the economy is forecasting substantial growth but many of the products such as almonds, apples, pumpkin, cucumbers rely 100% on pollination, and many other crops rely very heavily on pollination.
Honey bee pollination affects 75% of our food crops that contribute $14.2 billion to the Australian economy. While Australia currently has 500,000 bee hives, it needs 750,000 to provide sufficient bees to service agriculture and horticulture requirements. Experts predict that if a major bee disease was to arrive in Australia, national agricultural production would decline by 26%, equivalent to a consumer surplus loss of between $12.4 billion and $27.2 billion.
The security of much of Australia’s projected agricultural production and exports are dependent upon expanding the current bee population. The problem is Australia’s bees are under threat and most in the industry are warning that the plans to reliably ensure sufficient pollination are inadequate.
Hived and wild honey bees, and native bees are all facing various threats.
These challenges include:
- Climate Change effects including bushfires and droughts having negative impacts on bee habitat and bee health
- Increasing requirements for pollination services, in particular for a fast growing almond industry, resulting in more hives being transported and bee exposure to pesticides and herbicides
- Threat of Varroa and other associated bee diseases. Based on incursions to other countries the varroa mite could wipe out 75% of our bee pollinators if it breaches biosecurity measures at entry points to Australia. In particular wild honey bees will have limited defence.
- Reducing availability of diverse year-round bee habitat
- A declining beekeeping industry with the numbers of experienced beekeepers reducing due to retirement, lack of succession planning, industry economics, and poor recruitment/training of new beekeepers
- Despite it being an acknowledged risk neither Government nor market forces are responding adequately as it is a ‘medium term’ threat
- Funding for investigation, research and improvement to secure a sustainable future for pollinators is grossly inadequate.
Without action over the coming years to build a resilient beekeeping industry and tackling these issues head on, it’s likely that the impacts of climate change will significantly exacerbate the current situation.
Without a recovery and resilience program and improved preventative plans to address the challenges now, the risk is collapse of local food systems.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
This vision has been put together in collaboration with the Cause Good Thing’s entry – The Central Victorian Good Food Ecosystem which envisions a 2050 Victoria that has been transformed to combat Climate Change.
This project vision aims to address current risks and gaps to bees to raise awareness, increase funding for research and innovation and to create a stronger sustainable beekeeping industry.
The combined result is that:
- Diverse bee habitat is secured against threats of drought, bushfire and other climate change events with new habitat corridors acting as pollination pathways with a diversity of floral resources to provide year round habitat security
- The shift towards a more regenerative agriculture based economy and other factors reduce the need for pesticides and herbicides. The first to be banned through lobby activity, will be Neonicotinoids which had been wreaking havoc with bee sustainability.
- The establishment of a Collaborative Centre for Bee Excellence (CCBE) to research and innovate solutions to reduce the impact of the threats, in particular the Varroa mite, to bee sustainability; to identify a disaster recovery and resilience program to enable food security; and act as a breeding hub to secure and increase hive numbers;
- Use of Agtechnology to improve knowledge of habitat flowering (agriculture, horticulture and forest) for optimum bee hive relocation; to monitor remotely hive health; and to improve hive management.
- The support by Rotarians for Bees, Councils and others to establish a network of bee habitat across the region as part of regreening to help combat Climate Change and remediate Victoria’s soils. The research support from this program ensures habitat species selection that provides year-round floral sources for honey, wild and native bees.
- The financial health of the beekeeping industry will be strengthened by direct payment for pollination services
- Training and skills development are strengthened in Australia to ensure skills and expertise are passed to next generation beekeepers
- The importance of bees for pollination and food security has been recognised at all level of society as a cornerstone for agricultural sustainability. Food production levees are now applied to fund bee sustainability programs.
- The Rotarians for Bees approach leverages Rotary’s network and connects to bee support organisations, agricultural and horticultural businesses, not for profit organisations and government to catalyse action so as secure Australia’s bees and our food industry
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
In 2050 Central Victoria has been transformed from a landscape of traditional ‘Big Ag monoculture’ to include forests and flowering zones, as well as a network of regenerative agriculture farms with diverse crops and livestock. This food producing area is supported by a network of rural ecovillages, smart cities making it one of the most productive and climate change resilient agricultural regions in the world.
A key to Victoria’s Food system resilience is the role of bees and other pollinators. A network of pesticide and herbicide free ‘pollination pathways’ criss-cross the state. This habitat network comprises a diverse range of floral resources that were established and protected to ensure Victoria’s native pollinators, honey and wild bees have year-round habitat.
Victoria has now recovered from the Varroa mite incursion that initially affected the honey bee and wild bee population that would have been so much worse without the preventative programs put in place during the 2020s.
The establishment of the CCBE enabled research for pollination improvement programs developing bees with resistance or tolerance to pests and diseases such as Varroa mite. It is recognised as a world leading college for research, innovation, training and honey products.
The Centre also established a world best practice pollination services program. It’s based on artificial intelligence, satellite and remote hive monitoring systems. Hives are mounted on electric skid vehicles that automatically move from location to location chasing predicted floral resources availability before returning to base for honey harvesting and hive health management. In local areas where there is a diverse range of crops requiring pollination services the hives are static and serviced in situ. Hive health and production are remotely monitored improving the viability of bees.
The honey bee industry is now economically and ecologically sustainable.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
By the end of 2020 the future was looking bleak for Victoria’s bee industry. The effects of Climate Change were becoming ominous for the survival of our pollinators. With drought and bushfires wiping out habitat, and the increasing demand on pollination services by the fast-growing almond industry there was enormous strain on a small number of over worked and under resourced beekeepers.
Things got worse in 2025 when the varroa incursion finally happened. Its arrival had been forewarned and the CCBE had developed a breeding program of resistant stocks that could be released in waves to areas worst affected so that farmers were not faced with catastrophic crop failures. This Centre ensured pollination services were available for food producers and also enabled good quarantine and treatment as mite affected hives returned from pollination duties.
Thankfully Victoria had gone pesticide and herbicide free before 2025, as studies of varroa outbreaks in previous countries such as New Zealand showed higher mortality from the viruses spread by the varroa mite when bees were weakened by pesticides. Being the last significant varroa-free honey producer was a title Australia was reluctant to relinquish but the recovery program showed it was possible to rebuild stocks and maintain pollination needs to support food security.
Breeding and restocking programs to fight the colony collapses brought on by pesticides, to combat climate change and to ensure beekeepers remained financial has been instrumental in making bee pollination sustainable. This breeding program and the experiences gathered using rigorous science augmented by high tech satellite habitat and hive monitoring as well as artificial intelligence interpretation of videos of bee behaviours, enabled Victoria to support the wider world of agriculture with varroa management.
The Centres expertise was crucial to fortify local bee industries and to improve crop yields, redressing the effects of Climate Change on food security. Rotarians for Bees were able to use their networks in Rotary, industry and government to help communities improve biodiversity to support bees.
The success of establishing an integrated model in Victoria is replicated around Australia. As the lessons from this prototype were applied to other areas, the nuances of geographic and cultural differences will be shared to further refine practices and bee sustainability programs.
The Victorian prototype was driven around five key principles
- Develop a funding model to support the bee industry by recognition that whilst bees produce honey, their more important role is to pollinate agriculture and horticulture products to provide food security in Australia and for export. Levies are to be applied and allocated to appropriate government, non-government and industry co-operatives/peak bodies to fund necessary changes and research to ensure the pollination industry becomes sustainable.
- Establish a Collaboration Centre for Bee Excellence (CCBE) for research, innovation, collaboration and education for the Bee industry. This Centre runs breeding programs to build a supply of healthy bees that can be used to restock and expand the Bee hive network. Some of the climate and disease (including varroa) resistant breeding stock is also exported to regions around the world to enable then to establish similar programs to the Victorian prototype.
- Build a co-ordinated Agtech based Pollination Services Industry that provides advice to improve the efficient relocation of hives from area to area as flowering seasons happen - for intensive crops such as Almonds, to forests, and to more diverse habitat areas. This system utilises satellite and drone mapping, artificial intelligence systems and to optimise services. It includes remote hive monitoring to ensure optimal colony health and honey harvesting. In areas of regenerative farming, where there is sufficient biodiversity and variance in flowering times, the hive health management and honey harvesting is conducted in situ by mobile beekeeping services using autonomous electric vehicles.
- Banning the use of pesticides that also kill bees by improved farming methods and chemical products
- Development of a rural planning framework putting value on floral biodiversity to create bee and other pollinator supportive habitats resilient to climate change effects including drought, flood and bushfires
2050 Retrospective View
The unfolding of the Climate Crisis in the 2020s was a significant driver for a transformation of the beekeeping Industry. As the threat of increasing drought, flood, storm and bushfire events became clearer, so to the recognition that bee security meant food security and in turn societal security.
The Victorian economy was transitioning to sustainability by incorporating biodiversity and bee habitat objectives in the planning phases of Victoria’s post-fossil fuel economy, more informed decisions were taken with Regreening projects. This enabled a co-ordinated approach to regenerative agriculture and tree planting projects so that corridors of habitat were created that could be protected from fire, flood storm and drought. There was a recognition of the need to increasing food production to meet a growing population and a growing appreciating that pollination is a critical to our food security and that funding was needed and properly utilised to ensure a sustainable bee population.
The development of a future vision for the bee and food security industry in Victoria was a significant development. This was achieved through a Rockefeller Food Security Grant to the Rotarians for Bees project, an initiative of the Rotary Club of Canterbury. Rotarians for Bees forums include bee keepers, Apiary associations, research, not for profit organisations and Rotary International’s Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG). Workshops were set-up to develop the vision included all stakeholders to ensure the vision was sound, could be supported, and achieved the objectives of bee sustainability and food security. Effective collaboration was achieved to solve the various issues faced by the industry and to develop the roadmap for the project.
The CCBE was launched by the VicAgFutures Fund as a for-profit-for-good organization. The CCBE has generated income as a Registered Training Organisation, a supplier of infrastructure and equipment, pollination services, by the sale of climate and disease resistant bee colonies and queen bees, and received fees from the agriculture and horticulture sectors for yield improvements through pollination.
Federal and State Government policies were developed to recognise that pollination is a cornerstone of Australia’s Food Security and Economic stability. Food producer levies were adjusted that enabled proper funding of the CCBE, government departments, industry bodies (e.g.AHBIC), research universities, and not for profit dedicated bee organisations such as the Wheen Bee Foundation. These have been instrumental in recovering habitat, funding biosecurity and bee research required to ensure sustainable bee populations.
The establishment of this CCBE in Central Victoria has provided the foundation for a robust bee industry. Food production has increased considerably with the assurance that bees will be available for pollination services.
A range of bee related courses are now offered on site and by e learning for school level, TAFE certificates, Bachelor and post Graduate programs. The Victorian Centre has become a world leading education institution and attracts both interstate and international students.
The development of the Research, Innovation and Collaboration Incubator at the Centre has resulted in substantial advancement in scientific knowledge about bees, other pollinators and bee products. The real breakthrough from this research was developing a Varroa mite management process that didn’t require aggressive treatment with harmful chemicals that would contaminate honey. Whilst Varroa is still a big issue it is now managed in a eco-friendly way.
The increased production of honey has benefited the growers with the establishment of a strong export market of various grades of honey including the Manuka super honey. This abundant supply has also resulted in a strong uptake of honey as a food ingredient. Research has led to the development of a wide range of health products that has improved the economic model for beekeeping: By 2030 with improved management of bee habitat, bee health, hive transport and monitoring these have resulted in an economically sustainable industry for beekeepers
The transparency of the food supply chain means that consumers are now able to enjoy food and see exactly which farm/region it and its ingredients come from. With people reconnecting with community, culture and nature a large amount of our recreation time is spent with food experiences.
The CCEB receives thousands of visitors each week who are keen to see at first hand how this amazing insect and other pollinators live and do their work that provides us humans with a life of abundant good food.
Most importantly by 2030 the improved management of bee habitat, bee health and the appreciation of the importance of pollination in food production food security is now assured in Victoria.