AUSTRALIA'S largest livestock migration is underway this week, as billions of honey bees from across the country make the annual pilgrimage to Victoria's almond orchards.
Australia's almond industry relies wholly on honey bees for pollination and will require around 277,000 hives this season, which are trucked to the orchards by commercial beekeepers.
The almond flowering season begins in late July and continues for around six weeks. The winter chill encourages the trees to burst into bloom with flowers, which are then cross-pollinated by honey bees moving pollen throughout the orchard.
Commercial beekeeper Peter McDonald said many consumers were not aware of the integral role the humble honey bee played in the nation's food security.
"The almond pollination season has become one of the most important times of the year for the bee industry," Mr McDonald said.
"Not only does it give us a good cash flow into our businesses, but it also helps to build our hive strength back up after the off season."
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Four decades, there wasn't much demand for pollination services and only a small number of beekeepers were involved. But now, the demand has increased to the point it requires beekeepers from across the country.
Australian Honey Bee Industry Council chair Trevor Weatherhead said the almond pollination season was an essential time of year for his industry, allowing beekeepers to diversify their income away from exclusively producing honey.
"Honey bee pollination is not just important for food production, it is also an in-demand service that supports many beekeepers to sustainably and profitably grow their businesses," Mr Weatherhead said.
"[Almond] demand is growing, both here and in worldwide markets, because of the nutritional benefits they bring.
"This is exciting for the honey bee industry given honey bees are absolutely critical to growing the nuts on the trees in the first place."
Like many regional Australians who have tried to travel across the country over the past year, Mr McDonald said border restrictions will be a consideration for beekeepers during the migration of the honey bees this season.
"COVID-19 is an additional complication we all have to deal with," he said.
"We're a recognised essential service, so we're still able to go and work the bees, but we have to be very aware of different restrictions - and there is now the additional requirement of COVID-19 testing every three days."
But once the bees arrive at the orchards, he said the additional logistical challenges will be worthwhile.
"The bees get very excited when they get to the almonds, it's like the Garden of Eden for them."
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The story Billions of bees on the move to southern almond orchards first appeared on Farm Online.