Beekeepers back in business

The National Drought and Flood Agency first met Graeme and Blair Armstrong in early September 2019. The father and son duo shared with us their story of the flood and their experience receiving the $75,000 Special Disaster Assistance Recovery Grant. See their video story here.

With their headquarters located in Brandon, south of Townsville, beekeepers Graeme and Blair Armstrong transport their hives over a wide area – from Rockhampton in the south up to the Atherton Tableland - pollinating crops and tapping into the bushland honey flow.

Their hives were scattered throughout this area when the 2019 North Queensland flood event struck, dealing their business a savage blow.

Graeme explained the sheer volume of rain pushed water into the hives, not flooding them but causing mould that eventually killed the bee colony. Eighty per cent of their hives were destroyed.

It took the Armstrong’s several months to recover their hives, with each truckload brought back to home base bearing devastating news.

Facing disaster, Graeme deployed his remaining healthy hives to local fruit and vegetable producers, forgoing a year’s honey production, and set about repairing the business. He described the Australian and Queensland Government’s jointly funded $75,000 primary producer grant as a “lifeline”.

“It gave us a stepping stone to get us back on our feet,” he said. “It really felt like someone was caring for you.”

Eighteen months after the flood, and utilising a portion of the Australian Government’s $400,000 co-contribution North Queensland Restocking, Replanting & On-farm Infrastructure grant, Graeme and Blair are now well and truly back on track.

“We still have to replace a few more hives, and we’ve been flat stick to do it in such a short time,” Graeme said.

“We ended up being able to buy another bunch of hives which was great because we were struggling to build the numbers up naturally.

“We’ve been bombarded with orders for pollinating hives from producers in the Atherton Tableland; we’re stretched to the limit with orders.”

Graeme is finding huge satisfaction in again having hives to harvest the lucrative honey flow.

“It feels like things are getting back to normal,” he said.

“We sacrificed honey production last year for hives to keep cropping farmers going, so this feels like a little bit of normality back - a kick that says you’re doing the right thing. It’s very encouraging.”

Graeme is now taking on extra staff.

“I've got two young guys that I’m putting on,” he said.

“There’s not too many people around here putting on extra staff in the middle of this COVID-19 crisis so we can’t be doing too bad.

“With a bit more luck, we’ll have enough money coming in so we can work our way out of the situation the flood put us in.”

A final word about the Australian Government’s support?

“It’s been a God-send what it did for us, it’s kicked us back off again,” Graeme said.

“We’d have definitely gone under; we’re extremely grateful and would never have been in the place to fulfil our contracts. It would have been a total loss otherwise.”

The $400,000 Restocking Replanting & On-farm Infrastructure grants are still available for primary producers. More information is available on the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority website at http://www.qrida.qld.gov.au/.