Fact Sheet: Bee Industry
Australian plague locusts naturally inhabit the far north west of New South Wales and adjacent areas of Queensland and South Australia, an area known as the channel country.
They generally inhabit rural regions in relatively low numbers, but under favourable weather conditions they can multiply and migrate in large swarms to southern agricultural areas in southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and cause severe damage to pastures, field crops and vegetables.
Although locusts are not native to Victoria, they may be seen in varying densities from season to season, particularly in northern Victoria.
In any given year, it is possible for locust swarms to migrate into Victoria from interstate.
The Australian Plague Locust Commission provides forecasts on the likelihood of this occurring.
The following information will help beekeepers plan their risk management strategies if locusts are present in regional Victoria.
Risk to bees
The Australian plague locust prefers to feed on grasses and/or cereal crops such as wheat. However, when there is little green grass available they will eat a wide range of plants including horticulture crops, pasture, grapevines and trees, which may be prime bee foraging sites.
This has the potential to affect beekeeper operations in two ways: firstly through the direct impact locusts will have on foraging bees, and secondly from insecticides sprayed to control locusts.
When should locust treatment start?
Landholders should begin spraying locust hoppers around 10 days to two weeks after they hatch, when they form dense bands on the ground and before the adults can fly. Programs to treat adult flying locusts are generally ineffective.
When locusts first hatch and emerge from the ground, they are often scattered. Treating locusts at this stage maybe inefficient as some locusts may not have yet hatched.
Newly hatched locusts are vulnerable and without food and shelter they are susceptible to premature death. As these locusts develop, they form high density bands and this is the best time for treatment activities.
What about my bees?
Both the apiarist and the farmer share responsibility for managing the risk to bees when spraying locusts.
Chemicals used to treat locusts are hazardous to bees, although the level of risk varies between different chemicals. Bees can be killed by coming into direct contact with chemicals or by traces of chemicals being brought back to the hive. If this occurs, entire colonies could die or be so weakened that bees will be unable to produce honey until they recover.
Prohibitive label statements are listed on some chemicals that specifically pose a risk to bees when used. These statements inform the farmer of the risks of using the chemical so they can inspect the paddock before spraying to ensure bees are not foraging. Compliance with these statements is legally enforceable.
Protecting bees from locust insecticides
Beekeepers need to be easily contactable and know nearby landowners. Provide your contact details (including a mobile phone number) to nearby landowners with a request that they contact you prior to any locust spraying. In addition, stencil your mobile phone number on your hives, or make a sign with your contact details and place it on a post near your bee site.
If possible, move your bees to areas where locusts are not expected, as some locust insecticides can remain active for up to 28 days after application. Ensure that your hives are in a safe area that has already been sprayed or will not be sprayed and is free from potentially harmful chemical residues.
Remind nearby land managers of likely places where bees may forage. Ask the managers when locust spraying may occur and give them your contact details so they can advise you of plans for spraying.
Note that it may not always be possible for landholders and land managers to provide you with 24-48 hours warning of their intention to spray.
Remember that bees regularly forage over long distances. It will not always be possible to know if control agents have been, or will be, applied to properties within the bees' flight range.
Managing your bees
If you are a beekeeper who contracts honey bee pollination services to growers in locust-affected areas, you may need to move hives during the pollination time to avoid risk of spraying. It is advisable to discuss moving hives with the grower to determine the possible impact of removing bees under the conditions of the pollination contract.
Bees should not be returned to treated areas until all spraying in the bees' foraging area is complete and after any chemical residue that may be harmful to bees has broken down. This could be at least 28 days for some chemicals.
Locust activity should be reported to the Agriculture Victoria Customer Service Centre on 136 186. Alternatively, you can make a report via our online form with photos (where possible).