First flows in nine months for drought-affected apiarists

Jenny Douglas and Frank Malfroy hold yellow box and Blakley's redgum buds. They say the high altitude ranges of the Central West are experiencing an unusual season.
Jenny Douglas and Frank Malfroy hold yellow box and Blakley's redgum buds. They say the high altitude ranges of the Central West are experiencing an unusual season.

WHEN the NSW Department of Primary Industries presented Lyndhurst's Frank Malfroy with an Individual Bisosecurity Direction ordering him to move his bees from a 1200-hectare canola crop this month he was gutted.

There were very few canola crops around, he'd just returned from the beekeepers annual almond pollination pilgrimage and then he had two days to move 500 hives or risk a $1.1 million fine.

"This is the DPI, I thought they were supposed to help us," he said.

"The drought is just as disastrous for beekeepers as it is for any other farmer."

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Mr Malfroy's problems began when a person, certified by their doctor as anaphylactic, made a complaint to DPI that his bees were too close to her home.

The DPI first suggested a 5-kilometre exclusion zone around the woman's home, which would have taken in Mr Malfroy's and wife Jenny Douglas home, on Rockdell Rd at Lyndhurst.

That created a new and serious problem - Mrs Malfroy operates a queen bee breeding business from the property. For about four months of the year, she sells about 300 to 500 queens a week for about $30 each to Australian beekeepers with many of the buyers of late hailing from South Australia.

Frank Malfroy at work.

Frank Malfroy at work.

The 5km exclusion would have put Mrs Douglas out of business, fears she still holds.

The DPI then changed the exclusion zone to 2km.

NSW Apiarists Association president Stephen Targett says the whole affair has been handled badly by the DPI.

"It's been totally mishandled," said Mr Targett, "beekeepers have a right to farm."

And that, said Mr Malfroy, was his concern about such an abrupt delivery of an ultimatum from DPI.

"What would that mean for the NSW bee keeping industry, if that applies to all people who are anaphylactic? And just imagine how many people keep bees in their gardens in Sydney, it's become quite trendy."

Mr Malfroy said the trend towards people keeping their own hives had improved the lot of professional beekeepers. "We used to be treated like feral cats," he said, "now we're being accepted as green."

He said bees and their management constituted a vital cog in agriculture and their role in pollination was worth many hundreds of times more than the value of the national honey crop.

That aside, Mr Malfroy said the Central West was currently experiencing an unusual season, one that might only occur every decade or so, in that Blakely's red gum and yellow box were flowering concurrently.

"It means we'll have our first honey flows for nine months," he said.

A spokesman for DPI said: "NSW DPI can confirm it is working with a number of apiarists and a bordering property in an effort to balance the need to address a public safety risk and minimise impact upon farming operations.

"NSW DPI supports the state's valuable apiary industry in a number of ways."