Agribusiness & Food

AI beehives installed at Victorian ports to detect biosecurity threats

Photo: Port of Melbourne

Artificially intelligent beehives are being installed at Victorian ports to protect against exotic pests and diseases.

Bega Cheese’s Purple Hive project, a solar-powered device that detects bee pest Varroa destructor, will be installed alongside several sentinel hives managed and monitored by Agriculture Victoria.

Purple Hive provides alerts in real-time using artificial intelligence and 360-degree camera technology. It has been tested in New Zealand, where the mite is established, to prepare for installation at the Port of Melbourne.

HiveKeepers will install a smart hive at the Port of Hastings, which operates by identifying pests and recognising diseases through bee health and behaviour and sending alerts to a remote computer or mobile device.

The National Bee Pest Surveillance Program has hives located at the ports of Melbourne, Geelong, Hastings and Portland that are monitored for exotic pests and diseases like Varroa mite every six weeks.

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The ports have been identified as a high-risk pathway for bee pests to enter Victoria, with bees from Varroa-infested countries hitchhiking on ships that enter Victoria, which could threaten the state’s honey bee population.

Varroa destructor was detected on a ship that had entered the Port of Melbourne in 2018. The State Government worked with the industry and community to ensure the mite didn’t spread through Victoria’s bee population.

If Varroa mite was to become established in Australia, an estimated 20,000 cropping and horticulture industry businesses would be affected, as well as home gardeners and the wider community.

Victorian Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said bees are an important part of the state’s agriculture production, with about two-thirds of Victoria’s plant-based food requiring pollination.

“We are continuing to innovate to protect our honey bee populations from introduced pests and diseases, and the world-leading technology at our ports is the front line,” she said.

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