IMPORTANT WORK: Phil Dunlop inspects several hives helping to pollinate a melon crop near Gatton.
IMPORTANT WORK: Phil Dunlop inspects several hives helping to pollinate a melon crop near Gatton. Dominic Elsome

Fruit and veg production keeps Phil as busy as a bee

SUMMER production is quickly picking up in the Valley, with many farms becoming a hive of activity.

It's no different for Plainland bee keeper Phil Dunlop, who is busy moving his hives around different farms, helping to pollinate the region's crops.

"That's the life of bee keepers, you're constantly on the road, transporting bees to different areas,” Mr Dunlop said.

You might know Phil Dunlop for the honey and bee products he sells, but most will be unaware of the important work his hives do pollinating the many fruit and vegetable crops the region is famous for.

Mr Dunlop usually manages between 150 to 200 hives, each with up to 50,000 bees in them, and said many people didn't understand how important bee keepers were to the agriculture industry.

"We'd only last about six months if there were no bees in the world,” he said.

Phil Dunlop inspects his pollination hives on a melon farm in the Lockyer Valley
Phil Dunlop's hives can contain up to 50,000 bees each. Dominic Elsome

Mr Dunlop has offered pollination services since 2003, and said the demand for his services has increased throughout the years.

He explained increased production from modern farming techniques and dwindling wild bee populations meant many farmers could no longer rely solely on natural pollination.

"With wild hives, they're going to have a tendency to go more to those other flowering native trees than they will come into a melon crop,” he said.

Almost every fruit and vegetable needs pollination at some point in the production cycle - whether during the actual crop production or to produce the seed for the crop.

Phil Dunlop inspects his pollination hives on a melon farm in the Lockyer Valley
With the scale of modern production and dwindling wild bee numbers, farmers are increasingly having to utilise pollination hives for their crops. Dominic Elsome

When his hives aren't on farms, they spend much of their time in state forests and national parks such as Glen Rock National Park.

Mr Dunlop explained this was important to refresh the hives as fruit and vegetable crops often had very little nectar for the bees to collect, weakening the hives.

"That's their food source - nectar and pollen, so to keep the hive going they need that to feed the young bees,” he said.

"They need a variety of pollen as well - it's like humans if you just ate the one food all the time, you have to have a variety of foods.”

But these sanctuaries are under threat, with many bee keepers concerned about an approaching policy change.

Phil Dunlop inspects his pollination hives on a melon farm in the Lockyer Valley
Phil Dunlop explained between pollination work, hives needed to be "refreshed” as fruit and vegetable crops often had very little nectar and pollen for bees to feed on. Dominic Elsome

Mr Dunlop said many national parks bee keepers used were originally state forests, and when the decision to move them to national park status was made bee keepers were given until 2020 to continue using the areas.

With the deadline fast approaching, Mr Dunlop said many in the industry were concerned.

"It's going to be a big problem for a lot of the bee keepers,” he said.

"It's hard to find areas of private land where there's enough of the native trees to source the nectar and pollen we need.”

Mr Dunlop couldn't understand the need to ban the hives from the parks, as the bee keepers didn't damage the environment and he doubted the bees would out-compete native wildlife for the available pollen.

"They say one bee might collect a tea spoon of honey in its lifetime, not even that,” he said.