Only the best will do when it comes to bee genetics, with the state government to invest $1.3 million into a breeding program.
The first of its kind in the country, the program will respond to concerns about declining quality of breeder queens.
It will be a partnership between the NSW Department of Primary Industries, University of New England, University of Sydney and the Wheen Bee Foundation.
Speaking at the Orange Agricultural Institute on Friday, Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said genetic gains in honey production would bring up to $41 million extra to the industry during the next 25 years as bees produced more honey and pollinated crops more effectively.
“That’s the difference a good queen can make in a hive – we know that the role of the queen in the hive is so important, not just for productivity, but simple attributes like behaviour and also cleanliness within the hive,” he said.
Intensive livestock unit manager Alex Russell said the project would involve 250 hives and a little more than a candlelit dinner.
“We want to take control of the joining so we know the queens are mating with the right drones –we will use instrumental insemination as the technique for controlling that joining, it’s [IVF] for bees,” he said.
While varroa mite is not currently found in Australia, it is one of the biggest killers of honey bees, feeding on their blood and spreading disease between colonies.
Mr Blair said it was essential to protect the domestic industry from the pest.
“We want to be as ready as possible if that does enter onto our shores,” he said.
Mr Russell said the mite had led to a 90 per cent death rate in wild bees overseas and 30 per cent in managed hives.
Mr Blair also took a quick lesson in flying drones during his visit to the institute, where the DPI’s 64 pilots are studying ways of using them on farms and tracking illegal hunters.
He said it could take a day to collect 100 pasture observations on foot, compared to millions of pieces of data in a six-minute drone flight.
Mr Blair is in Orange to attend the NSW Nationals regional conference which kicks off on Saturday.