Poor season slashes honey harvest

Last updated 17:03 27/03/2014

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The price of a pot of honey may go up as much as 20 per cent in coming months, after a poor season slashed the country's honey harvest.

Beekeepers say honey supplies may be half last year's volumes due to cooler than usual temperatures around the crucial Christmas flowering period. Bees stayed inside and consumed more honey in the hive than usual.

Peter Ward, a Wanaka beekeeper and chairman of Dunedin-based New Zealand Honeyco, said production was the poorest in a decade.

"It's a huge issue," he said. "It will not only affect local pricing in the supermarkets, it will affect the export market quite considerably."

New Zealand honey packers were "feverishly running around trying to shore up their supplies for the year" as the production period came to an end.

"A lot of producers have been hoping that the final result would be better than they were thinking, but in actual fact, for many producers it really isn't playing out to be any better than we feared."

Although honey shortages were not expected, Ward predicted local prices could rise 10 per cent in May and possibly another 10 per cent in July or August.

The situation would not correct itself until early next year, and even then prices might plateau rather than go down, as the local market caught up with export prices.

He expected export honey prices to rise about 10 to 15 per cent, but demand continued to grow.

Manuka honey, a favourite honey variety overseas, was not as badly affected as its flowering season was earlier in the summer, "but supply will still be tight".

However, Airborne Honey's sales and marketing manager John Smart said booming export prices, not honey supply, were the main driver behind local honey price hikes.

"It's a case of having to secure honey," Smart said.

"Very rarely will beekeepers discount the honey that is sold in the domestic market, versus the honey that is sold on the export market."

Honey exports reached a peak of 8086 tonnes worth $155 million in the year to last November, up 13.5 per cent volume and 34 per cent in value.

Smart also expected manuka honey prices to rise when new manuka honey standards came into force.

Tighter testing would eliminate fake manuka honey and reduce supply.

Peter Bray, Airborne's managing director, said the drop in the honey harvest was not being caused by declining bee numbers, as commercial hives were actually on the rise.

"There is a myth that bees are declining in this country," Bray said.

"In New Zealand, the number of hives has actually increased from 300,000 to 400,000 since the varroa mite made an appearance.

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"If the beekeepers are being well rewarded by the economy, they will find enough hives and bees."

What your honey could be going up to:

Price now/Plus 20%

Arataki clover honey, 500g $5.49 $6.59
Hollands Native Bush Honey, 500g $6.49 $7.79
Airborne Manuka Honey Health, 250g $11.99 $14.39
Comvita Manuka UMF5+, 500g $26.99 $32.39
(source: Countdown online)

- Fairfax Media

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