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  • Victoria’s booming almond business sees bees get busy

    Aug 27th, 2016

    Much of the buzz surrounding Australia’s rapidly growing $600-million-a-year almond ­industry is down to bees.More than 150,000 hives have been moved from across Victoria, South Australia and Queensland to the Sunraysia region in northwest Victoria to pollinate the increasingly lucrative almond crop.In terms of numbers, it is the biggest movement of livestock in Australia. For pollination co-ordinator and beekeeper Trevor Monson, 69, it is one of the busiest times of the year as the bees flit ­between the blossoms, cross pollinating the almond trees.“What turns me on is the aroma of almonds and the bees buzzing around the blossoms and seeing little robin redbreasts perched in the branches,’’ he says.

    Mr Monson, who some have dubbed a kind of bee whisperer, has been pollinating the crops in Sunraysia through his firm Monsons Honey and Pollination for almost 40 years.“I have seen the industry (in Victoria) go from 1000ha to 28,000ha and they are predicting 50 per cent growth again in the next few years,’’ he says. “It means an extra 100,000 hives will be ­required.”Soaring prices on the back of drought in California have seen almonds, which are grown predominantly in Victoria but also in the Riverland region of South Australia and the Riverina in NSW, assume the mantle of Australia’s most valuable horticultural export. While the corporate horticulture giants Olam and ­Select Harvests produce the bulk of the crop, independent growers such as Neale Bennett from Merbein, just out of Mildura, also play a big role.“I started growing in 1992 and we (the industry) were producing 5000 tonnes. Now we are producing 80,000 tonnes,’’ he says.“The almonds that are grown here in Australia aren’t self-pollinating, so we need help with pollination. That’s why we have the bees come in and do the work.”Along with fertiliser and irrigation water, pollination makes up a significant cost for the growers, but without it, Mr Bennett says, they would “go broke”.The growers need two or three hives — each containing at least 30,000 bees — per acre (0.4ha) to ensure pollination of the crop. Beekeepers are paid about $100 a hive to leave the bees there for the required three to four weeks.