While apiarists across SA have been devastated by drought and bushfires in recent times, there is an air of positivity moving forward, with a promising outlook for both honey production and pollination.
About 1200 hives on mainland SA and another 1000 on Kangaroo Island were lost in the summer bushfires, but SA Apiarists' Association president Josh Kennett said many apiarists were successfully managing their remaining hives.
While national honey production is expected to be low this year, Mr Kennett expected SA to fare much better than other states, with many hives "wintering well" due to good rainfall events spurring vegetation and bud growth.
"People are keen to see a good honey season in SA, because a fair few beekeepers here have struggled in the past couple of years," he said.
I don't think anyone needing bees for pollination is going to go without, but they probably are not going to have the numbers they would ideally like.
In an effort to rebuild hive numbers, about 200 nucleus hives were made up by beekeepers across the state, which have been distributed to mainland apiarists that had lost hives in the fires.
KI beekeepers were unable to receive nucleus hives - no bee products are allowed on the island in order to protect the world's last pure strain of Ligurian bee there - but Mr Kennett said the program had, overall, been a positive one.
"It was really good to be able to get that replacement program, and I think most people that did get burnt out on the mainland have recovered to get to the hive numbers that they had, although there are still some who are a bit short," he said.
With pollination demand steadily increasing - about 20,000 extra hives are needed nationally for SA almond pollination - Mr Kennett said agriculturalists and horticulturalists requiring pollination of their crops would "get by" this year.
"I don't think anyone needing bees for pollination is going to go without, but they probably are not going to have the numbers they would ideally like," he said.
In a bid to grow hive numbers to better meet pollination demand in the coming years, three SA apiarists have been offered sites within the Kuitpo Forest Reserve to each house up to 120 hives.
If we don't have new locations to place bees, we can't grow the numbers.
Previously, access to public land has been extremely limited in SA, and Mr Kennett said the increased access was a "major step forward".
"Beekeepers often place hives nearby on private land so bees can fly into the public areas, but there is so much land deeper in those sites that can be utilised much better if we can get access to it," he said.
Kuitpo land access a big win
Les Crane, Macclesfield, is one of the three beekeepers who have been offered a site within the Kuitpo Forest Reserve.
Mr Crane will move about 80 hives, each containing between 20,000 and 50,000 bees, into the reserve in October. The two other selected beekeepers - Simon Peacock, Mypolonga, and Aaron Woolston, Meningie - will be moving up to 120 hives in, with all sites away from common tourist areas.
Mr Crane said the pilot program was "absolutely fantastic", with the flowering resources at the new location allowing for an increase in hive numbers, which can then be moved across the state to meet pollination demand.
"If we don't have new locations to place bees, we can't grow the numbers," he said.
"You can only have a certain number of bees in a certain area, and if you oversaturate that number, bee numbers end up declining because there aren't enough floral sources, so we really need new locations."
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Mr Crane is a migratory beekeeper, moving his bees across SA, depending on flowering resources and pollination demand, and he aims to double his hive numbers from 250 to 500 in the next couple of years.
"The Kuitpo program should help us (reach that goal) because we now have somewhere else to take them," he said.
Mr Crane hoped positive effects of the 12-month trial would be seen quickly.
"No tree flowers every year, and we've only got a small window for this trial so that makes it really difficult. But we're hopeful for a good flowering event this year, so we should be OK," he said.
About 200 hive locations are available on public land in SA, mainly in Ngarkat Conservation Park, compared to 4000 sites in WA, but Mr Crane hoped a successful Kuitpo trial would lead to further sites being made available on public land.
Recovery slow for KI beehives
About 30 per cent of Kangaroo Island beehives were lost in the summer bushfires, and while surviving hives are being maintained, the mass loss of vegetation has meant recovery will be a slow process.
With no bee products allowed onto KI, apiarists are having to rebuild numbers from remaining hives, using flowering resources that have been severely depleted.
Peter Davis, who owns Island Beehive, based in Kingscote, lost 500 hives in the fires said it was a struggle to find suitable sites for bees on the island, with the most heavily vegetated areas having been lost.
"A lot of the new sites we've put bees on didn't have a lot of productivity so the hives actually went backwards," he said.
The SA Apiarists Association raised $75,000 to help provide and send inverted sugars and pollen supplements to KI apiarists, which Mr Davis said would be fed to try to optimise production in existing hives.
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He said vegetation burnt out in fires on KI in 2007 had only just started to be productive areas for hive placement in the past few years, and he expected a similar timeframe following the 2019-20 fires.
He said it was vital that controlled burning was to occur in the future, to mitigate vegetation clearance if another fire was to occur.
Throwing another spanner in the works, a honey sample returned positive for American Foulbrood on KI earlier in the year. There has been no formal identification of the disease, and thorough checking of hives is under way to in an attempt eradicate the disease before it spreads.
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