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The VFMA is a not-for-profit membership association that stands up for Victorian farmers, strengthens the viability of local producers and jointly defends our food sovereignty through the support and promotion of accredited farmers’ markets.

1 September 2022

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Honey producers could well be seen as the glue that holds our members together and not just because honey is sticky!

Around 65 per cent of the world's food crops are pollinated by insects, the most important being the honeybee. Bees and other insects are attracted to flowers and blossoms and the nectar they produce. Their fuzzy surfaces pick up pollen (the male fertilising agent) and transfer it to other flowers.

Spring is make-or-break time for many important crops. Delicate blossoms on almonds and stonefruits are open for just a short time. Only with sufficient numbers of bees moving amongst the millions of flowers across the orchard can there be optimal cropping. Add to this concerns about insecticides in the environment, climate change and Varroa mite and beekeepers and orchardists have a lot to worry about.

According to Agriculture Victoria, there are over 14,500 beekeepers in the state. The list of crops reliant on insect pollination is long. As commercial farming has scaled up and up, the requirement for bees to pollinate crops goes well beyond just local hives and locally-endemic insects. As a result, beehives containing these vital little domesticated servants are moved around the country providing what are called "pollination services". Make no mistake, we eat off the bees' backs.

While an Australian equivalent isn't available, this National Geographic map shows the vast distances many bees are hauled in the United States across the course of a year. Almonds in California's Central Valley to blueberry fields in Oregon, across to Michigan's apple orchards, then to Florida before heading back to start the cycle again.

People often talk about food miles as being the distance from harvest to consumer's table. But before the crop's even left the orchard, food miles for the inputs of bee pollinators, agricultural chemicals, packaging and other farming necessities being brought to the farm are already stacking up. Our modern food system is predicated on enormous, largely invisible supply lines. As our food systems have shifted focus from local, to regional, to national and global in the name of efficiency, profitability and consistent supply, flexibility disappears and risks increase.

Recognising and supporting local and regional food systems isn't just touchy-feely romantic stuff, it's vital for a food-secure future that's responsive and adaptable to climate change.

This article gives an oversight of large-scale beekeeping in the US, and highlights some of the many risks posed by this scale of industrialised food production. The Pollinators is an award-winning film exploring the realities of modern beekeeping and food production in the US. It's available on various streaming services including Kanopy (free through your public library).

Australia is the only major honey producer free of the hive-destroying Varroa mite which is why its recent appearance in NSW is so concerning and led to restrictions on the movement of hives (now eased). While honey production nationally is worth around $100 million, the many crops reliant on bees means they contribute $8-19 billion to horticulture annually, according to Agriculture Victoria. It's estimated that with recent restrictions on hive movements, almond pollination in the Riverina and NW Victoria will be down by 50 per cent this year.

From almonds along the Murray in August, hives are trucked to apple, pear and stonefruit crops in September followed by cherries, berries and citrus into October. Between November and January the bees are put to work on vegetable crops.

Bees are an extraordinary window into our modern food system and its many complexities and challenges. Our honey producers have lots of stories to share. Meet one at a farmers' market this week and ask them to tell you more!

Connecting you directly with Victorian
accredited farmers' markets

3 - 8 September

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