HIVE OF ANXIETY: Apiarists predict honey shortage
WITH more than 11 million hectares of prime forest land decimated in bushfires and the ongoing fallout of drought still front of mind, the last thing our region's apiarists needed or expected was a global pandemic.
For many, like Warwick beekeeper Trevor Sorensen, it has meant property he would usually depend on has been taken off the table.
"We've got a lot of country where we keep bees and some properties have, quite understandably, asked us not to come on because of coronavirus and due to the fact they may be elderly and quite nervous," he said.
"It means we lose country we'd normally be working while we're still desperately trying to recover from drought. It just makes things a lot harder."
Some producers had also been banned from national parks during the crisis.
It had left apiarists predicting a difficult spring ahead.
They had hopes of summer rain but it failed to make a permanent dent in the dry.
"People seem to think that we're out of drought and while that quick reprieve was lovely, the honest truth is that we went over 12 months without a drop and all our trees in the region that were going to bud didn't because the rain came too late," Mr Sorensen said.
"If we had a bit of rain over winter, and our winter is not traditionally a rainy season, we might be able to get short budders but honey bees tend to head to long-term budders.
"If those don't come, things are looking very grim."
The widespread shortage across the region had left beekeepers resorting to measures they never thought they would reach.
"For the first time in my career, I know of beekeepers bulk feeding sugar just to keep them alive," Mr Sorensen said.
"I myself started to mix batches of sugar just to give them something to eat."
For Ray Clarke, who operates Clarke's Bees, it was the first time, he'd sought out government assistance to stay functioning.
"I believe in the phrase 'give to the needy not the greedy' but this time I think it's going to get hard - I really do," he said. "We just don't know when COVID-19 will be over."
Mr Clarke said his straight-to-consumer sales had improved due to a panic-buying rush and hoped it would just not be a short-term benefit.
"As long as you've got enough honey I think you'll be fine. The trouble is whether we have enough within our local trade," he said.
"In Australia, we're lucky that we're used to liquid honey but if we get short, we may have to use candied honey.
"Because the trees aren't budding, we don't know where we're going to go yet between here and Christmas."
Mr Sorensen said panic-buying at least ensured there would be a competitive market for producers.
"Panic buying has had a wonderful effect. I was talking to the honey packers and they can't keep honey on the shelf," he said.
"I had one packer who, feeling confident that he had nine months worth of supply, but after the panic-buying he had none. As far as I'm concerned we won't have a problem selling it."
But until then, both producers urged consumers to buy Australian.
"We just need ongoing support."