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The issue

Pollination is critical to the horticultural and agricultural sectors of the New Zealand economy. Honey bee colony losses are increasing worldwide due to many stress factors such as diseases, misuse of pesticides and malnutrition in bees. These stress factors are present in New Zealand particularly the ongoing problem of Varroa mite now spreading through the South Island.

Protein is critical to the honey bee’s survival and good health. Pollen is the main source of protein in the natural diet of bees, so it is important to ensure that they have a diverse and abundant supply of flowers with the best protein-rich pollen. A poor diet and malnutrition compromises the bee’s ability to withstand long term stresses such as Varroa and to resist diseases.

The availability of pollen for honey bees has decreased with modern farming practices because of the removal of traditional flowering trees and shrubs on farms. In addition, weed elimination programs have decreased the availability of traditional pollen sources such as gorse and broom. Replacement pollen for these weedy species needs to be found urgently because a shortage of protein-rich pollen during spring build up of honey bee populations affects the number of bees available for crop and pasture pollination.

This combination of a shortage of floral resources and an increase in stresses from bee pests and diseases is serious for the future of honey bees in New Zealand. It is important that farmers help protect the future of farming by playing their part in supporting honey bees.

MPI Sustainable Farming FundSponsored by MPI's Sustainble Farming Fund and others