A recently released survey reveals important findings about the winter colony loss rates of New Zealand bees and the experiences of New Zealand beekeepers says Apiculture New Zealand.

The New Zealand Colony Loss Survey is produced each year by Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research for the Ministry for Primary Industries.  It is based on an online survey of beekeepers and is part of an international effort involving more than 35 countries.

The latest report shows that overall winter loss rates of bee colonies in New Zealand has continued to rise since the survey began in 2015.  Over the 2020 winter, 11.3% of bee colonies were lost compared to 10.4% in 2019 and 8.4% in 2015.

Barry Foster, chair of Apiculture New Zealand’s Science and Research Focus Group, explains that while some overwintering losses are a normal part of beekeeping, he is concerned by the increasing loss rate.  “The survey shows that in 2020 an estimated 99,150 bee colonies were lost.  While this is lower than loss rates experienced overseas, it shows that we cannot be complacent when it comes to bee health.”

The average loss rate across countries participating in the international survey, from the most recently available period (2018/2019), was 16.7%.  Findings from a similar survey in the US found the winter loss rate over the 2019/2020 period was 22.2%.

As in past years, New Zealand beekeepers reported that the primary reasons for overwintering losses in 2020 were queen bee problems, suspected varroa infestation, suspected starvation and wasp attacks.

Mr Foster says there have been promising advances in both the area of varroa management and in the use of biocontrols to deal with wasps.  However, dealing with queen problems is more complex and the subject of research both within New Zealand and internationally.

“Ongoing research is a vital part of reducing colony loss, but also beekeepers know that their everyday management of these threats is key to hive health.  The survey is a really valuable tool in measuring how we are doing, and where more efforts are needed,” he says.

The 2020 survey also asked questions on beekeepers’ views on aspects of their work, their overall experience and how they accessed beekeeping information. The findings showed that the economics of beekeeping was the biggest challenge for many and that most beekeepers learnt their skills through a beginner’s course or from a mentor.

Apiculture New Zealand CE Karin Kos says these findings support what she is hearing from beekeepers.  “It is a difficult time to be a commercial beekeeper, especially for those not involved in mānuka production.”

In terms of training, she says more and more beekeepers are looking to professional qualifications and advanced courses to learn their skills.  “Our industry is seeing the value of having well-trained workers which is why we are seeing a huge increase of interest in programmes like our Apprenticeship in Apiculture scheme.”  This scheme currently has over 200 participants who are training while working in the beekeeping industry, up from 75 people in early 2020.


The NZ Colony Loss Survey infographic can be viewed here.