Manuka honey industry potential explored at Hawera conference

Bees producing manuka honey for Taranaki business Egmont Honey established last year by James and Toby Annabell, of Hawera.

Bees producing manuka honey for Taranaki business Egmont Honey established last year by James and Toby Annabell, of Hawera.

A share partnership in Taranaki manuka crops would protect both beekeepers and landowners from a crop failure, according to a beekeepers' advocate.

A crop share rather than a site fee would avoid financial stress and relationship failures, Federated Farmers bee industry chairman John Hartnell told this week's manuka conference in Taranaki.

The conference was hosted by Venture Taranaki to explore the potential of New Zealand's manuka honey industry.

Hartnell said Taranaki's cooler temperatures meant manuka flowered later than other North Island regions.

Although it flowered In Taranaki every year, it did not always produce nectar. Manuka needed wet feet, weekly rain and not too much wind.

A sudden cold snap would deplete the foraging bee workforce and could shut off the nectar flow.  

Taranaki's inconsistent conditions created potential for crop failure, so partnerships between beekeepers and landowners should take into account the crop's potential for wins and losses, he said.

People wanting to attend the conference in Hawera were turned away after organisers capped numbers at 350.

Venture Taranaki project director Anne Probert said the manuka honey industry was quite possibly New Zealand's fastest growing sector and one that could add value to the country's primary sector through better use of marginal land, job creation, technological development and exports.

Hartnell said New Zealand currently had 6500 registered beekeepers - of whom 448, or 7 per cent, were commercial - and 620,000 registered hives - of which more than 540,000, or 87 per cent, were commercial. 

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Honey production this year was estimated to be 19,000 tonnes and worth $550 million.

By law, all beekeepers had to be registered and all sites where honey was collected had to be registered.

The honey bee was the principal pollinator for New Zealand horticulture and agriculture. It pollinated 80 per cent of agriculture and horticulture floral plants and its pollination of pasture clover for nitrogen regeneration was worth more than $4 billion to grassland farming systems.

The greatest risks to the New Zealand bee industry were resistance to varroa treatments that could lead to an inability to manage the pest and imported honey and bee products carrying new pests and disease.

The varroa mite, first detected in New Zealand in 2005, had spread throughout the country and cost the industry $25 million a year. 

Other risks were the loss of traditional foraging resources  and monocultural farming practices that created sterile environments hostile to the honey bee, he said.. 

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment principal adviser Andrew McCallum said the manuka honey export industry was exactly the kind of innovation New Zealand should be undertaking because it would generate growth - in both volume and value. The value of New Zealand's manuka honey, at US$17.70 kilogram, was 4½ times the global average.

Factors underpinning successful export categories included a  strong industry body, commodity levy funding, research and development funded by industry and government, trade promotion and marketing, robust regulation, market access and some form of New Zealand branding, he said.

 - Stuff

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