The Port of Melbourne will be the first home for the Purple Hive Project – an initiative by Bega Cheese’s B honey brand – which uses solar-powered ‘smart hives’ to protect Australia’s honey bees from exotic pests and diseases.
Bega is working with Agriculture Victoria as part of the National Bee Pest Surveillance Program for the project, with hives being installed alongside sentinel hives, already being managed and monitored by Agriculture Victoria.
The Port of Melbourne was identified as the most likely entry points of bee pests, such as Varroa destructor, in Victoria.
The Varroa destructor has inhabited each populated continent in the world except for Australia. It is estimated the healthy honey bee population in Australia and the pollination services they provide could be reduced by 90-100 per cent if the pest established itself in Australia, as well as impacting crops such as almonds and apples.
The Purple Hive Project aims to find out “how significant efficiencies can be in relation to the detection of Varroa destructor,” in addition to the in-give inspections at the site.
Bega Foods executive general manager Adam McNamara said Bega was proud to be investing in the technology to support Australian biosecurity efforts.
“The deployment of B honey’s Purple Hive Project at the Port of Melbourne is a significant step for not only the beekeeping industry, but agriculture more broadly,” said McNamara.
“Bega and B honey acknowledge that early detection is critical to protecting Australian honey bee populations from the arrival of Varroa destructor – the Purple Hive’s 360-degree camera technology and artificial intelligence has been designed to detect a healthy bee from a bee carrying Varroa destructor while the bees are entering and exiting the Purple Hive at the Port of Melbourne.”
Purple Hive has been tested in New Zealand where the mite is established, to prepare for installation at the Port of Melbourne.
Minister for Agriculture Mary-Anne Thomas said, “Bees are so important to our agriculture production – about two-thirds of Victoria’s plant-based food requires pollination by these amazing insects.”
“We are continuing to innovate to protect our honey bee populations from introduced pests and diseases, and the world-leading technology at our ports is the front line.”
There are around 12,800 beekeepers and almost 135,000 registered hives in Australia, which contribute to the state’s $17.5 million apiary industry.