There is little room for doubt that the honeymoon period is upon us.
With honey prices soaring, the honey industry is facing a severe challenge.
“I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the honey I want and I’ve put the honey back in the ground,” says Joanne Williams, a local apothecary.
The first thing that will need to happen is to get rid of the pesky bugs and mould.
Williams says she will be looking for new honey, and she won’t be surprised to find that it will be a little bit pricier than it was last year.
A growing problem A number of beekeepers are worried about the health of the bee population in Australia.
Honey bees are not only crucial for honey production, they are vital for our food supply.
In the US, the number of colonies has more than doubled since 2006, while the number is expected to double again in 2023.
And the number has increased every year.
This year, according to the US Department of Agriculture, there are nearly 7.5 million honey bees living in the United States, with an average of 7.8 colonies per hectare.
These bees pollinate a vast amount of food crops.
“Honey is a very important food source for us, particularly for the farmers in our state,” says James McKeon, director of the Department of Agri-Food and Rural Development’s Beekeepers Association.
The honey bee population has increased dramatically in the last 10 years, but there is a growing problem.
Honeybee colonies have dropped from about 40 million in 2010 to just 7.7 million in 2020, according the Beekeepers of Australia.
McKeo’s beekeepers believe the decline is a result of more intensive farming.
“The main reason for that is we’re moving to higher-intensive farming,” he says.
The industry has responded by reducing the amount of pesticide use, and also by using a number of products to help the bees.
But the beekeepers say the solution is not a complete elimination of pesticides.
“We’re not going to stop using pesticides, we just need to reduce our use of chemicals,” says McKean.
This is particularly true for pesticides, because bees have adapted to them, and can use them for a number that are toxic to humans, such as neonicotinoids, the insecticides.
This has resulted in an increased number of farmers applying neonic to their crops.
A number are also looking at alternatives to pesticides.
Some growers are switching to biocides, which are substances that trap pests and kill them in their cells.
Others are using bioremediation, where the bioreactor can be turned off.
“It’s really important to get bees to know where their food is coming from and not just rely on pesticides,” says Williams.
But Williams is not optimistic.
“A lot of the pesticides that are in the market today are really bad,” she says.
“They can be toxic to bees.”
For example, the use of a fungicide called chlorpyrifos, which was banned in the US in 2006, is still on the market in Australia, despite widespread research showing its toxicity.
“If we can just get bees in the field to eat their food, they can adapt to that and that’s the only way we can reduce pesticide use,” says McGowan.
Williams has already started looking for alternatives to neonic and chlorpyrs, and is hopeful that more will be coming.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, but I am optimistic we will see a lot more.”
But there are signs that the industry is not doing enough to tackle the problems.
“Bees are becoming more resistant to neonics, which is worrying,” says David Gellensby, an ecologist at the University of Queensland.
“And that’s when we need to be more cautious.”
The honey industry says it is aware of the problem and is doing all it can to address it.
But it also believes that honeybee numbers are in fact increasing.
“People have been asking us, ‘What’s going on?'” says Gellensen.
“What are we doing to protect the honey bee?
There are a number options available to us.”
This article originally appeared in Al Jazeera’s Australia edition on 11 September 2018.