BEE PREPARED: Gympie apiarists and native bee enthusiasts Athol Craig (left) and Glenbo Craig (right) promote the cause with television gardening host Jerry Coleby-Williams, at the Gympie Garden Expo.
BEE PREPARED: Gympie apiarists and native bee enthusiasts Athol Craig (left) and Glenbo Craig (right) promote the cause with television gardening host Jerry Coleby-Williams, at the Gympie Garden Expo. File Photo

How Gympie bee keepers are helping save the nation's farmers

GYMPIE bee keepers are in the forefront of a campaign to save Australia's fruit, vegetable and nut growers from an unthinkable multi-billion-dollar disaster.

And the species that might save us all could be one of the tiniest creatures in our lives, the Australian native stingless bee.

Gympie commercial bee keepers Athol and Glenbo Craig have been in the forefront of promoting native bees as a pet and garden ornament for years and they have said potential threats to commercial species could mean we are very fortunate to have a native species that is not susceptible to the same diseases and pests which are threatening European honey bee populations overseas.

They helped form the Mary Valley Bees organisation and have actively promoted research and information about stingless native bees as a potential horticultural saviour.

Athol and his son Glenbo are well known for their hard work running the Gympie Show honey display, as well as their promotion of environmental and bee keeping issues.

They have also been involved heavily in the Gympie Garden Expo, another forum for their efforts to promote native bees.

Their efforts have proved prescient as the world become aware that we may have been a little too successful in what insecticide manufacturers once promoted as humanity's war on the insect world.

As author Rachel Carsons warned in her 1960s best seller, Silent Spring, the disaster of an insect free world would mean no insect eating birds and an end to the pollination processes which are essential to food production.

Already, farming authorities in Victoria have warned of potential crop failures worth billions of dollars in that state alone as flying insect numbers crash around the world and new pests emerge to threaten the existence of the European honey bee.

And overseas, a 75 per cent fall in flying insect numbers has prompted some entomologists to predict a crisis that could even threaten human survival.

Now Australian research organisation Hort Innovation has teamed up with Western Sydney University in a $10 million effort to help safeguard the nation's fruit, nut, vegetable and cut flower industries.

Hort's research and development general manager David Moore said recently there is now strong industry support behind an initiative to investigate stingless bees as a way of reducing agriculture's dependence on the European honey bee.

"As an industry, horticulture is keenly aware that it needs to safeguard against any threats to the nation's food crops and ensure the sustainability of Australian farms,” he said.

"To help do this, we need to consider alternative pollinators, investigate their performance in different crops and find better way to propagate and deploy them.”

Mr Moore said native stingless bees have now emerged as the leading candidates to ease the nation's farming reliance on European honey bees.

And the message is now starting get out there, according to lead researcher, Professor James Cook, of the university's Hawkesbury Insitute for the Environment.

He said stingless bees are already widely used in macadamia farms, where they outperform honey bees.

"The research has the potential to change the way we view pollination in Australia.

"It is already clear managed stingless bees may have wide but underdeveloped potential for crop pollination.

"Stingloess bees are also used in crop pollination in several Asian countries, such as India and Thailand, and there is good scope to exchange knowledge and expertise in bee biology, husbandry and deployment in horticulture,” he said.

It is a message the Craig family, along with a growing number of Gympie region native bee enthusiasts have been promoting for some yearsnow.

"I'm a commercial bee keeper,” Glenbo Craig said. And that means the European honey bee variety.

But native bees could have a critical role in horticulture in the future, he says.