Sep, 25 2018

Alternative Pest Management Plan

american foulbrood

Can we take a better management and control approach to AFB?
Absolutely. Here’s how.

When the AFB management agency announced earlier this year a hike in the apiary and beekeeper levy, I was approached by many for commentary on the cost of the redevelopment of the reporting portal (APIWEB). I do empathise with the AFB board, that $1 million is not enough to run a National Pest Management Plan. I believed an increase in the levy is needed and a review long overdue for the outdated management plan currently in place. There are a number of aspects within the management plan, such as; the reporting system, key research, inspection to eliminate AFB, beekeeper education and revision of the funding model that need to be looked at to implement an up-to-date, smooth and coherent pest management plan that all beekeepers can adhere to.

Since 2009 the beekeeping industry has experienced rapid growth with hive numbers increasing from 357,789 to 887,510, and beekeepers from 2,680 to 8,826, according to the AFB management agency. With fast growth brings an increased risk of AFB, and the management agency has acknowledged the current plan has not achieved its objectives and says resource constraints prevented them from taking further action to mitigate the higher risk.

They have proposed an increase in the apiary and beekeeper levy from $20 to a maximum of $40 per beekeeper, and from $15.17 to a maximum of $50 per apiary, which will be phased in over the next five years. This will raise an additional $2.15M each year.

I have heard from many beekeepers discussing where the total increased annual levy cost of $2.15M will be spent, a total I agree we must all pay our fair share. The questions is, however, what is a justified increase and where will the increased spending have a positive effect on eliminating AFB? We did, after all, ask for a better approach. Here’s MyApiary’s approach, suggestions and solutions to the increased budget keeping return on investment in mind.



I believe an obvious and easy-to-remedy aspect is the outdated APIWEB system. The system is largely known in the beekeeping community as a frustrating platform to work with, in terms of easy navigation and processing efficiency.

The APIWEB replacement project would be a one-off cost of $500,000 and an IT project of this size would cost about 15-20% of the initial development costs for ongoing maintenance and support in subsequent years, and recognising maintenance of the portal in coming years is important. This would prevent the situation we have now where the system is defunct due to lack of maintenance. Without seeing a revised project scope, I believe the costs of $500,000 for an inter-government agency project to replace two web portals and possibly a third with the honey levy is about right.

MyApiary also participated in the Assure Quality RFI process last year, where we proposed a reduced functional version of the MyApiary system as an alternative interagency portal, a system many in the industry are now already familiar with as a user-friendlily and modern system designed specifically for beekeeping. Using the MyApiary system under an escrow license could be a lower cost, fast alternative to redeveloping the ApiWeb system.

However, APIWEB aside, with the proposed total levy increase in mind, where will the remaining $2M be spent every year?



I have a background in manufacturing, and one of the key principles of manufacturing is that inspection is only part of the quality control process, not a quality assurance system in itself. Quality assurance needs to be designed into the system at the beginning of the process, not implemented at the end. The quality, good or bad, is already in the system. You cannot inspect quality into a system.

In terms of the elimination of AFB, increased inspections by AP2’s are simply not going to eliminated AFB from our hives. We are talking about a disease which spreads whiles in the preclinical stage, i.e not visible to the human eye. Increased inspections by a small army of AP2s rechecking hives a beekeeper has already checked is not going to reveal anything new that cannot be seen. This is not going to lead to the elimination of AFB and is a huge waste of resources.






To eliminate AFB we need to focus on good practice management, redesigning the way we manage our hives and hive equipment. We also need to assist beekeepers to develop clear processes around controlling and then eliminating AFB from their businesses. We need to ensure all beekeepers are knowledgeable on identification and how to prevent the spread of the disease. Equipping beekeepers to develop and introduce practical and effective barrier methods to their operation and create an environment where those struggling are supported.

The management’s agency enforcement of the Pest Management plan should be refocused to ensuring checks are in fact taking place. Auditing DECA’s and record of checks. Focusing hive inspections only on those not compliant with their DECA, where a buddly system could be set up relatively cheaply from a pool of experienced beekeepers willing to help.



Researching alternative and effective methods to detect and reduce sub-clinical spore counts in our hives is necessary. For example, the practice of replacing comb which also has the benefit of reducing other pathogen loadings in our hives, using sniffer dogs etc..

The budgeted $50,000 put aside for research is significantly below the amount required to undertake any level of meaningful research. To put that cost into perspective, it does not cover a single research administrator salary, let alone researchers, lab technicians and facility overheads.

Funding research is one of the key activities the levy should be focusing on. I suggest a research cost should be active in pursuing research into all practical detection and management methods as a way of reducing sub-clinical spore counts to zero. For elimination of AFB, every beekeeper needs easy access to a simple detection method for sub-clinical spore counts which can be conducted in the field at the apiary.

We also need to stop relying on our Australian neighbours funding research in the hopes an outcome is applicable here in New Zealand and put in our own contribution to steer research outcomes that a fit for our operating environment.



An effective surveillance program needs to be encouraging the registration of apiary locations, not discouraging beekeepers with a tax. For this to work, I believe the funding model needs to be disconnected from the very metric we need to monitor - the location and movement of hives. The currently proposed apiary levy also unfairly taxes business models with low apiary to hive ratios, i.e hive rental services and pollination services both critical to promoting and supporting the apicultural industry.

So the question comes back to, what is a justified levy amount and appropriate funding model?

Firstly, we need to look at how big the problem really is in financial terms. The current reported level of AFB is 0.35% of the current hive numbers. About 3,106 hives a year suffered clinical signs of AFB and were destroyed. At a hive and associated products value of $1,220 per hive, that’s an industry cost of $3.8M per annum.

That’s not a lot of money in industry terms, therefore, we need to look at what we are willing to spend to fix the problem. Currently, the board is suggesting 80% of the problem cost to fix it. For the same cost, perhaps the role of the board should expand to include surveillance and elimination of other current and potential exotic pests and diseases. Why not if the infrastructure is already in place?
Our calculation put the cost of treating hives for varroa at $13Million alone, not including the cost of hive loses due to varroa. A cost 4 to 5 time greater than AFB to the industry.



There are two options for reconsideration. A beekeeper levy with a hive number levy, as opposed to an apiary levy, or,  placing the funding of AFB biosecurity response under the honey commodity levy and fund a unified industry portal for beekeeper registration and levies.

Targeting a more effective and efficient eradication plan and administration cost

Say we went for a more reasonable cost of 50% of the problem. $1.6M for a AFB biosecurity response, an increase of $600,000, $50 per beekeeper and $2 per hive, or 0.6cents per kg of honey, allowing for 25% non-compliance would raise $1.6M.






Identifying and registering apiaries




Cross-programme support (portal)




Surveillance to detect AFB




(refocus to auditing DECA’s)

Eliminating AFB

Included costs in surveillance



(research into new detection and management methods)

Preventing spread of AFB

Included cost in surveillance and governance, management, administration and communications



(education and establishment of advisory service)

Governance, management, administration and communications