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A 2016 Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS) Foundation Rural Scholar is causing a buzz in apiculture with her research on a disease of economic importance to Australian agriculture.
Tara Needham, a final year veterinary science student at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga, has undertaken an independent research project on American foulbrood (AFB), the most serious brood disease affecting honey bees in NSW.
The bacterial disease kills larvae in their cells within the hive and current treatments exterminate the entire colony; devastating to an industry contributing approximately $36 million annually to the State’s economy.
AFB is an infectious disease and can be spread by interchanging apiary equipment or if bees consume contaminated honey. Beekeepers are required to notify an apiary inspector under the Apiaries Act if their colonies are infected, if left unchecked AFB will eventually kill all the hives in an apiary and will spread to other hives within flying distance.
“I expect to find AFB exists at subclinical levels in many hives and that while bees are able to manage those levels, environmental factors like stress and human influence such as pesticides can cause the disease to become pathogenic,” Needham said.
The research involved collecting more than 1,000 samples over 5 months along with laboratory work to monitor seasonal patterns and AFB prevalence in the Riverina. Needham is now finalising results and aims to finish the report by her July graduation.
“The prospect of publishing a scientific article on a subject I’m passionate about makes all the work completely worth it, it’s amazing seeing it come to fruition,” the 23-year-old said.
Needham “fell into apiculture” after joining the Wagga Wagga Bee Keeping Club to learn about the only insect that produces food for human consumption.
“I thought it would be a great hobby but it turned into a passion,” she said. “Bees are incredibly fascinating creatures with complex lives. Their world is dictated by smells and seeing ultraviolet; it’s so different from ours.”
The NSW Department of Primary Industry supported Needham’s project alongside CSU staff including Veterinary Pathology Lecturer, Andrew Peters, who ensured experiments were correctly designed and the scientific process understood.
“Tara’s research is very significant to the future of this area in agriculture and vet science. Bees are economically and agriculturally valuable, the importance of their health should not be underestimated,” Peters said.
Roughly 65 per cent of Australian agricultural production depends on pollination by honey bees, seeing their services valued between $4-6 billion. With more than 3,000 registered beekeepers and over 200,000 hives, NSW is Australia’s largest beekeeping state contributing approximately 40-45 per cent of the national honey crop.
“It’s great that young vets are supported by programs like the RAS Foundation Rural Scholarship because it gives them the ability to explore emerging and niche needs within agricultural industries, Australian biosecurity and vet health,” Peters said.
RAS Foundation Rural Scholarships assist individuals whose career aspirations benefit rural and regional NSW communities. More than 350 scholarships have been awarded since its inception in 2011 totalling over $1.7 million.
Needham was one of 58 scholarship recipients in 2016, which covered her textbooks, apiary equipment and study placement travel costs.
“The support of the RAS Foundation has been invaluable,” she said. “I’ve networked with other recipients and was able to dedicate myself to finishing my degree to my full potential without financial stress.”
Executive Officer of the RAS Foundation, Kate Ross, said the scholarship re an initiative designed to ensure an increased flow of skilled people to rural and regional NSW communities.
“Scholarships support our mission to build strong, sustainable communities by providing vital funding to rural-minded students working towards their educational goals,” Ross said.
“We choose students who are passionate about their local communities and have the energy, skills and enthusiasm NSW country areas need to remain sustainable,” Ross said.
Applications for the 2018 Rural Scholarships open on 1 August and close 30 September 2017