COMMERCIAL beekeeping has long been considered the realm of older farmers. So much so, that the ageing demographic of beekeepers has been a cause for concern for the future of the industry. But now it looks like there’s hope, with a growing number of younger farmers, rural people and even urbanites flocking to learn about the art of honey production.
Hobbyists and commercial keepers have been swarming to beekeeping courses around the state. This surge in demand has been particularly evident at specialised agriculture educational institutions such as Tocal College, near Maitland. Since introducing the certificate III in beekeeping course two years ago, the college has been inundated with enrolments, says Tocal principal Darren Bayley, with 60 students graduating from the course in the past 12 months.
“In the last group of graduates we had a real mix of students, from commercial beekeepers with many hundreds of hives – one with over 1,000 hives – through to amateurs who are only keeping about 10 hives.”
Darren Bayley, Principal, Tocal College
Earlier this year Tocal Agriculture College
gained a sizeable grant as part of a $1.3 million government initiative to reinvigorate the bee industry across NSW. The grant will fund a program that aims to improve the genetics of queen bees to produce insects with superior
pollination performance, honey production and disease resistance.
SAVING THE BEES
The college recognises the vital part training plays in the beekeeping industry in relation to biosecurity threats presented by pests (such as varroa mite) and diseases that can lead to the collapse of whole colonies says Darren. Mitigating these risks is an important aspect of the training offered by the college and largely influences its curriculum and its certification.
“Australia has been in the fortunate position of not having or seeing those really damaging impacts that have occurred elsewhere – in the US and so on – but we’ve got to be really vigilant and we need to be monitoring our hives and really checking them carefully for any incursions or unusual signs and making sure that we act on them right away,” Darren says. “We want to make sure people are well trained, following good procedures and doing the right thing.”
In addition to a certificate III in beekeeping, the college also offers stand-alone courses for those who are already in industry and simply looking to update their skills and knowledge. The demand for these types of shorter courses has been growing throughout the education and training sector as people seek out short, sharp bursts of training that will have an immediate impact on their farm or industry.
Darren is confident beekeeping has a bright future. And so, too, does the humble honey bee: “People just find them fascinating,” he says.
SHORT BEEKEEPING COURSES
: Beginning in bees
: From $505 (depending on location), GST-free
: A practical two-day course for novices
: Pests and diseases of honey bees
: $590, GST-free
: Two-day course to give beekeepers the skills to recognise, monitor and manage the impact of pests and disease on honey bee colonies