BEEHIVE auditing should be a routine procedure for almond growers according to one pollination industry representative.
Principal of Zadow Apiaries and former Australian Honey Bee Industry Council chairperson Ian Zadow spoke at the 17th Australian Almond Conference in Victoria earlier this month where he encouraged growers to take note of what was coming and going from their properties.
Within his topic, "best practice for hive timing and management", Mr Zadow reiterated several times the importance of orchard owners and managers being active in their pollination programs.
He said hives should be checked before being brought onto a farm, prior to winter and on selected days during winter pollination.
Weak hives are not as efficient for pollination and present a higher biosecurity and disease risk.
"As growers, you should always check the beekeepers hives for pollination to make sure they meet the standard," Mr Zadow said.
"It doesn't make sense to have people drop hives in the orchard and not check you are actually getting what you need."
He said established relationships between growers and beekeepers might negate the continual need for hive auditing but where multiple beekeepers are involved, it was critical.
"Ideally the audit should be done within seven days of the hives being delivered or at least within the first couple of weeks. Around 10pc of the hives should be checked," he said.
"I think if a beekeeper slightly struggles to keep a standard one year, they shouldn't be penalised.
"But if a beekeeper struggles for several years in a row you've got to question, are you getting good service?"
"If in the audit you find dead or weak hives, it shows the beekeeper hasn't been doing their job in preparation very well at all."
A hive audit involves opening up the hive and checking the number of bees. He said such hives need to be quickly removed.
Mr Zadow, a commercial beekeeper based at Tintinara in the upper south east of South Australia, has been involved with almond pollination for 20 years in the Riverland region.
Mr Zadow said the Code of Practice and National Bee Biosecurity Program was endorsed at the Australian Honeybee Industry Council in July this year.
"We believe, and we'd like to see in the future, that almond growers will be requesting a copy of the certificate of compliance each year from their beekeepers to ensure the beekeepers are compliant with the code and the disease threat is minimised on pollination," he said.
"Bee biosecurity officer visits will also focus on orchard visits at almond time to check for any biosecurity breaches or issues."
This week is Australian Pollinator Week which aims to acknowledge the important insect pollinators during spring.
It is a designated week when community, business and organisations come together to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and support their needs.
He said growers and beekeepers need to work together to benefit both industries.
"I was only talking last week to a local beekeeper who is a very good operator. He's just found he's picked up American foulbrood for the second year in a row from almonds," he said.
"Last year it was in about 30pc of the apiary and this year it's looking worse.
"Unfortunately, it's these circumstances which make beekeepers question whether it's worth them going to pollinate the crop."
He also addressed concerns some beekeepers have about orchard chemical use while bees are present.
"We understand that chemicals are required to be used while growing the crop but prefer minimal use when the bees are in and that applications are made while the bees aren't working," he said.
Mr Zadow said the best times to apply sprays are through the evening until early morning when bees are dormant, and that communication with the hive owners would also help alleviate fears.