Bega Cheese is moving into the world of honey, and protecting bees in the process. The company has launched the Purple Hive Project, which utilises 360-degree cameras and AI to protect Aussie bees from the destructive Varroa mite.
The name of Bega’s new sweet product (literally) is B Honey — an 100 per cent Aussie sourced honey. You should spot it in your local food aisles soon. But even more importantly is Bega’s foray into the world of bee tech to protect against a tiny intruder.
The blood sucking varroa mite
The Varroa mite, also known as Varroa destructor, is a tiny parasite no bigger than a pin head — but it causes devastation in honey bee hives. It attaches itself to bees and feeds on their blood. It can also spread viruses that can wipe out entire colonies.
As early as six years ago the mite wasn’t present in Australia, but it has since begun making its way here. In April 2020 it was reported in a hive in Townsville. A similar infestation was also found in 2019.
According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, it can sometimes go undetected for up to two years. Colony death from the Varroa mite can occur in one to three years.
The department also stated that the following can occur as a result of infestation:
- Spotted-brood pattern with infested brood being removed from their cells
- Weak bees that do not live long
- Virus infections that would otherwise cause little harm
- Stunted wings, missing legs or other deformities in severely attacked colonies
Not only does the mite threaten the bee industry, but agriculture in general. According to the CSIRO one in three mouthfuls of food consumed in Australia has been aided by pollination by honey bees.
“The presence of the Varroa mite in Australia would cripple our local honey bee populations. Not only impacting Australian honey production, but also the many Australian food crops which rely heavily on honey bees for pollination,” Ian Cane, Australian Beekeeper and Purple Hive Project Advisor, said in a press release.
“Our nation’s food security is heavily dependent on honey bees.”
Bega honey and the Purple Hive Project
The Purple Hive Project is able to use the 360 degree cameras and AI to tell whether a bee is healthy or if it’s carrying the Varroa mite. It scans each bee as it enters the bright purple hive to see if the mite is present. If it is, an alert is automatically sent to the beekeeper so the hive can be quarantined.
The hives are also run on solar power.
Considering how manual and difficult the detection process has been before now, this offers a potential huge step forward to helping save Aussie bees.
“When we began to develop B honey, we realised the significant threat facing Australia’s honey industry,” Adam McNamara, Executive General Manager of Bega Foods said in a press release.
“It was clear to us that we needed to invest in technology and innovation to support the future of our honey bees, Australian beekeepers, and in turn, Australian agriculture.”