FEELING THE STING: Alan Elks and Jenny Corbet fear for the future of the industry.
FEELING THE STING: Alan Elks and Jenny Corbet fear for the future of the industry. Rachel Vercoe

Beekeeper says he's being pushed to the brink

A FIFTH-GENERATION beekeeper has warned his industry is being pushed to the brink by the rapid increase in blueberry farms in the region.

Alan Elks, from Glenreagh Beekeeping and Honey, says he won't risk putting his hives within 5km of the farms, which allegedly use highly toxic chemicals, some of which are banned in other countries.

He supplies honey to Capilano, which has extremely strict standards, tightened further in recent times following the "fake honey" scandal.

"We don't know where we are going to go because everywhere is just about taken up by blueberries," he said.

"We are being backed into a corner because all the commercially viable places are being taken over.

"They're popping up everywhere and on smaller patches of private land all over the place -you'd need a helicopter to know where they are. We are going to have to move."

Last year he placed about 130 hives on a forestry site he leases at Corindi but says he nearly lost the lot when half the bees failed to return to the hives. He later discovered new blueberry farms in the vicinity and believes the bees were impacted.

"The bees get infected from the spray and it's like they become drunk - they get lost and just don't return. I don't know why they have to use such harsh chemicals," Mr Elks said.

 

Alan Elks and Jenny Corbet, Bee Keepers at Glen Reagh.
Alan Elks is a fifth-generation beekeeper at Glenreagh. Rachel Vercoe

Berries Australia Limited executive director Rachel Mackenzie said the wellbeing of bees was critical to berry growers, who have a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with beekeepers who provide pollination services.

"We work with our growers to ensure they are using current best practice in chemical application to minimise impact on bee populations," Ms Mackenzie said.

"If an individual beekeeper has concerns about activities of a specific grower we ask them to let us know."

Mr Elks is calling for much tougher regulations on the industry and greater resources for the government departments tasked with upholding environmental laws.

"The whole ecosystem in Coffs is going to collapse - creeks, rivers, everything is going to go, there's no doubt in my mind," he said.

Coffs Harbour City Council is currently conducting a Rural Lands Review and discussion paper specifically in relation to intensive agriculture. It is open for public comment until May 31.

The paper outlines various options to "reduce land use conflicts in rural areas", which could include the requirement for development applications and for buffers between farms and nearby schools and homes.

In a submission on the topic, the Australian Blueberry Growers Association outlined its opposition to greater regulations.

"We commend the council on their stated overarching objective of recognising and enshrining the importance of rural land and intensive plant agriculture to the Coffs Harbour region, however we consider that the detail of the strategy is not consistent with this objective.

"Like the Coffs Harbour City Council, ABGA recognises community concerns around blueberry production in the region and in response has developed the Blueberry Code of Conduct which specifically and directly addresses many of the practices that are concerning the local community," the submission states.

To make a submission, go to the Have Your Say link on the council's website.