Australia's biggest honey producers have halted overseas exports and failed to fill some of their supermarket orders as extreme weather wreaked havoc with bee numbers.
A combination of drought and bushfire last summer wiped out an estimated 30 per cent of Australia's bees. Coupled with a severe decline in the volume of flower blossoms, production from the country's biggest honey processors has more than halved.
Capilano Honey managing director Ben McKee confirmed that prices had risen as a result, but said the rises would do little to combat the shortage.
''Honey prices have increased but there is no great result … because honey is physically not being produced. It doesn't exist. You can't buy what doesn't exist,'' Dr McKee said.
Capilano has reduced its domestic product range, withdrawing its larger packs of honey from supermarket shelves. For international customers, the company has imported honey from Argentina, Canada, China and Europe to meet demand, which accounts for a quarter of its business.
Beechworth Honey is also forecasting a significant plunge in production.
Consumers are not the only ones hit. The bee decline is being felt across agriculture. Insects pollinate about 76 per cent of the world's crops, and the honey bee is the most prolific pollinator.
Australia's biggest listed nut producer, Select Harvests, uses two beehives for each acre of almonds it produces.
Managing director Paul Thompson said the company had managed to secure hives this season, but paid more for them.
Bee broker Trevor Monson, of Monson's Honey and Pollination, Mildura, would not say exactly how much the price of hives had risen. He said beekeepers had to buy bees from Queensland to meet demand, but if conditions do not improve over winter the ''alarm bells would start ringing''.
The bee decline comes at the same time as a parliamentary inquiry into the future of beekeeping and pollination.
Source: Fairfax Media