Bee researcher struggles for funding

September 19, 2013

From: ABC Rural (Australia)

By Sarina Locke

Australia’s leading bee researcher says he’s forced to rely on raising his own funds from fashion magazines and community fetes to keep researching the varroa destructor mite.

It’s estimated a varroa incursion could cost Australian honey and pollination industry over $70 million a year (RIRDC report), by killing all the feral bees and up to 40 per cent of hives.

Dr Denis Anderson says he needs $10 million to make a breakthrough in finding the chemical trigger that feral bees could use to protect themselves from the mite.

He’s left the CSIRO to establish his own company Bees Downunder, because the organisation failed to attract enough funding from the horticulture sector.

“The horticulture industry does contribute funds into a research fund, controlled under the roof of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

“But the amount of money is still a pittance. It’s really $350,000* a year and that includes from honeybee sector.”

Dr Anderson remains a fellow at the CSIRO, but hopes his new business can get independent private funding, which has started to trickle in from a fashion magazine publishing house.

With the CSIRO, he succeeded in getting the honeybees moved from the policy division of animals to plants in order to encourage the horticulture industry to contribute more into this sort of research, which would protect them in the future.

He says the horticulture industries need to be educated about the seriousness of the problem, but that can take a long time.

The recently established Pollination Committee sources levy funding from almond growers, apples and the pear industry, but not from others that also rely heavily on honeybees, like strawberry and canola producers.

The Pollination Committee, which works under a rural research banner of RIRDC and Horticulture Australia Ltd distributes the funds, and the Chair Gerald Martin is torn.

“Right now we’re struggling to find enough money to put in some front line defence to protect ourselves from varroa.

“Now we’ve been told by experts including Denis that its entry is probably inevitable, but that shouldn’t give it our best crack at it.

“We want to put cameras in decoy hives around Australia that notify our Department of Primary Industries staff immediately.

“We need several hundred thousand dollars to put that in place. We have the technology, we’d like to expand that to every port.

“Where we start and where we finish, it’s a tough call.”

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