Almond growers prepare for record harvest but more bees needed to keep industry buzzing
Almond Board of Australia CEO, Ross Skinner, said despite some hail damage to the crop early in the season the overall production volumes looked very strong.
"The early estimates provided to us from the industry processors is for a national crop of about 93,000 tonnes, which is about 13,000 tonnes more than in 2018," Mr Skinner said.
"A lot of the plantings that have occurred over the past six or seven years are now starting to reach maturity, so the crop sizes have increased."
Riverland almond grower Paul Martin said it was a pretty good growing season without big problems.
However, as the industry is still growing, and many trees are yet to reach full maturity, Mr Skinner said accessing pollination services would become a major challenge and more hives were needed to pollinate new trees.
"I think from 2016 to 2018 we've seen 12,000 additional hectares added to the industry acreage," he said.
"The 12,000 hectares that have already gone into the ground will need approximately 70,000 additional hives, so going forward the industry is certainly seeing a need for additional hives to be available." "We are working with the honey bee industry to see if we can open up additional resources so that the beekeepers can increase the number of hives that are available in Australia."
Beekeepers feel the pressure for pollination services
The rapid growth of Australia's almond industry and increased demand for pollination services is felt by commercial and amateur beekeepers across the country.
Apiarist Kerry Chambers, who runs her beekeeping business Half Barrel Honey in Renmark, said a lot of commercial beekeepers came from interstate to meet the demand of pollination services from the almond industry.
"Even amateur beekeepers like myself are leasing out our hives to fill that shortfall from the commercial beekeepers," Ms Chambers said.
"There is a lot of pressure on existing commercial beekeepers to build their business and get more hives up and running, but that comes with a lot of issues where we need government support.
"We need access to sites to forage because it's good when your bees are on the almonds but, in between each almond pollination period, you need somewhere to put your bees.
"So, access to national parks and areas where there is bee food is really crucial for those beekeepers to actually sustain that number of colonies."
Despite increased pressure for pollination services, it has also been a tough season for beekeepers as low rainfall has led to low amounts of bee forage.
Ms Chambers said many beekeepers had to feed their bees pollen supplements and sugar syrup to sustain their colonies.
"It is just really challenging because bee pollination for the almonds falls in winter, where naturally your bee colonies are at their weakest," she said.
"So, there is that pressure to make sure that your bee hives are really strong to meet the needs of pollinating the almonds."
Global demand for almonds expected to rise
As consumer awareness of the health benefits of nuts and in particular almonds was continuing to grow, Mr Skinner said he expected demand for almond to increase in the future.
"We are seeing a doubling in supply in the world over the past 15 years … at a very viable price," he said.
"Australia is only a small player in comparison to the US industry, which produces about 80 per cent of the world production
"Australia is the second biggest world producer with 7 per cent of world production followed by Spain with about 5 to 6 per cent."
Mr Skinner said regardless of being a small player on the global market, demand for Australian almonds was strong especially from Asia, India and Europe.
Source: ABC Rural