Yanchep Innovation Hub to house UWA honey bee research centre

Yanchep's Innovation Hub will house a co-operative research centre for honey bee products. Picture: Martin Kennealey d467153
The Innovation Hub will also be home to the Yanchep Institute from September. Picture: Martin Kennealey d467153
Yanchep's Innovation Hub will house a co-operative research centre for honey bee products. Picture: Martin Kennealey d467153 The Innovation Hub will also be home to the Yanchep Institute from September. Picture: Martin Kennealey d467153

THERE will be plenty of buzz at Yanchep’s Innovation Hub when it opens this year, with the facility to house a UWA research centre for honey bees.

The university will set up a co-operative research centre (CRC) at the Yanchep Beach Joint Venture (YBJV) training facility, working with the honey bee products industry.

YBJV executive manager Jon Kelly said the buildings had recently reached practical completion and would house a range of programs, including the Yanchep Institute which is scheduled to open in September.

“We expect to create an educational and research cluster in the two buildings,” YBJV chief executive Gin Wah Ang said.

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As well as the UWA researchers, Mr Kelly said the developer was negotiating with another university and if successful it would offer a broader range of subjects.

He said the training facilities would move closer to the future Yanchep city centre “when the train arrives”.

Dr Liz Barbour, from UWA’s office of research enterprise, said basing the CRC for Honey Bee Products in Yanchep put it closer to the Southern Beekeepers nature reserve near Cervantes.

“We want to make it the centre of beekeeping in the west,” she said.

The CRC will get $7 million over five years from the Federal Government, with about 30 people involved in research through UWA and universities in Queensland and South Australia.

Dr Barbour said the research centre was expected to open in May and PhD students would start in 2018.

Programs they would explore include establishing a bee credit system, maintaining the quality of bee honey products, bee health and developing a label to market products that meet national standards.

“It’s the most trans-disciplinary project that we have done at UWA,” she said.

Researchers would also be involved in chemistry, geography, evolutionary biology, plant genetics and marketing.

Dr Barbour said they wanted to establish the value of the industry and the effect of events such as bush fires or prescribed burns.

“At present, honey bee product value is estimated at $125 million,” Dr Barbour said.

“What is often overlooked is that 44 of our food crops wholly or in part rely on honey bee pollination which adds an additional farm gate value of $6.5 billion.

“The low price of most honey bee products from Australia doesn’t reflect their unique and pure qualities.

“Australia, especially WA, has one of the healthiest honey bee populations in the world so no antibiotics or chemicals from bee husbandry contaminate the products.”

With jarrah honey already highly regarded, Dr Barbour said the researchers aimed to find “alternate sources from native flora that we can make good quality honey from”.

She said that included pursuing similar success seen in marketing New Zealand’s manuka honey from its one teatree species as Australia had about 80 species of the plant.

“There’s going to be a lot of technical training,” Dr Barbour said.

“We are doing research at a tertiary level there – the centre is basically about doing ecology research.”

Dr Barbour said the centre would also create pathways for people to become professional beekeepers, and they were setting up a certificate III training program.

Numerous groups will be involved in the project, from the departments of Parks and Wildlife and Food and Agriculture, to the ChemCentre, PathWest, businesses, training groups, hobby beekeepers and the Bee Industry Council of WA (BICWA).

“It’s getting everybody together – through BICWA we are getting through to all bee keepers of WA,” Dr Barbour said.

She said they would also investigate the impact of honey bees on native bees, and highlighted the strength of biosecurity laws.

“The borders were locked down quite a long time ago – we haven’t had any bees coming into the state for a long time,” she said.

“Whilst Australia is surrounded by bee diseases, through our quarantine efforts, the worst – including the sucking mite, Varroa – have not yet reached our shores.”

Dr Barbour said if a major bee disease arrived in Australia, there could be a 26 per cent decline in national agricultural production that could cost between $12.4 billion and $27.2 billion.

“Claims have been made that Australia’s honey bee population has little resistance to foreign diseases,” she said. “If true, any disease invasion would be catastrophic.”

Dr Barbour said the CRC for Honey Bee Products would provide pollination security by increasing the value of the industry to attract and train new professional beekeepers and increase the number of hives.