Hive thefts hit Australia's
almond-growing region as bees are a valued pollinator The world's most valuable
pollinator is under attack.Bees, responsible for an estimated $15 billion of
crop output in the US alone, play an essential role in almond production. With
the nut fetching record prices, the insects have become the asset to own or
steal as in Australia's biggest almond-producing region.
Thieves have stolen hives with as
many as 5 million bees in the northwest corner of Victoria State and the
robberies have intensified in the past two months. With the insects in short
supply, police say there's high demand for hives in the local almond orchards,
where farmers are cashing in on surging global demand amid a fourth year of
drought in California, the world's biggest producer.
“From a producer's perspective,
you can make a lot of money at the moment trading your almonds,“ said Marc
Soccio, an analyst at Rabobank International in Melbourne, who specialises in
consumer foods and rural economics.The thefts are “symptomatic of a relative
shortage of bees. People are scrambling around to pollinate their crops“. Almonds
stand out in a year where almost every other commodity from oil and coffee to
copper and zinc has fallen. Almond tree blossom lasts only a few weeks. That
means growers short of hives at the critical pollination period need to find
bees fast to profit from the nut's soaring price.
“No bees, no almonds,“ said
Trevor Weatherhead, a former beekeeper who's now the executive director of the
Australian Honey Bee Industry Council, which is based in southeast Queensland.
“There are a lot of people who rely on us for their incomes.“ The crime wave is
proving a headache for the police force at Swan Hill, a country town about 350
km northwest of Melbourne, the state capital.
More than 150 hives have been
stolen in six separate robberies, said Detective Leading Senior Constable Mal
Simpson. In the largest theft, about 60 went missing. Only a professional could
manhandle that many bees at once, Simpson said. A single hive might contain as
many as 35,000 bees at this time of year, according to the Australian Honey Bee
The robberies underline the inextricable link between food and commercial pollinators such as bees. Worldwide, 87 of the leading 115 food crops depend on animals for pollination, accounting for 35% of global food production, according to the US government.
Olam International, the world's
second-biggest grower of almonds, spent $18 million last year pollinating its
orchards, according to its website.
This year, about 70,000 hives
housing about 2.2 billion bees went to work on its Aus tralian trees, Rob
Wheatley, general manager of the company's al mond orchards in the nation,
said. “Without bees, we couldn't set an al mond crop to com mercial terms,“
“Globally, al monds are doing
very well as a health snack and super food and there's high demand for nuts.
Australia is taking advantage of that.“ Australia will produce 75,000 tonnes of
almonds in 2015, an almost five-fold increase from 2006, and trails only the US
in output, the Almond Board of Australia says. The figure will rise in coming
years as younger trees start to yield nuts, the board says.
Australian almonds fetched
A$12.64 ($8.86) per kg in July, a 51%jump from the end of 2014, according to the
most recent data from the Board.