Beekeepers excluded from industry report

The National Beekeepers' Association is surprised it was not consulted for a parliamentary select committee briefing by the Ministry for Primary Industries on the health of the country's honey bees.

The report contained some mistakes that beekeepers would have picked up had they been consulted, said association president Ricki Leahy, of Murchison.

"There certainly are some issues in the report that beekeepers would disagree with," he said.

"I am a bit concerned that beekeepers weren't given the opportunity to have any input into it, as far as I know, and did not have an opportunity to even read it so we could comment on it before it was presented."

On the first page, the report says that 350 commercial beekeepers own more than 90 per cent of 450,000 hives nationally.

The association believes the number of commercial beekeepers controlling most of those hives is more like 750.

While the report acknowledged the association's estimated economic value of honey bee pollination at $5.1 billion annually, the figures it used for the value of the industry's honey, pollen, propolis and royal jelly production were confusing, Leahy said.

"It's quite hard to understand exactly what they're trying to say there," he said.

Beekeepers believe the report's interpretation of an increase in registered beekeepers to more than 4000 and an increase in national hive numbers to 450,000 as a sign of the good health of New Zealand's bee colonies is misleading.

Leahy said most of the increase in beekeeper numbers could be explained by a surge in the number of hobbyists keeping a few hives to pollinate fruit trees after honey bee colonies throughout the country were hit by the spread of the varroa mite since 2000.

"Beekeeping clubs have had a massive increase in membership because of that," he said.

To rebuild bee colonies devastated by varroa, beekeepers had to try to increase hive numbers, so statistics indicating an overall increase in hive numbers tended to distort the picture.

Leahy said there was no doubt the beekeeping industry had grown, but that was because of increasing demand for hives to pollinate horticultural crops, consumer demand for manuka honey and a huge increase in the value of honey.

He said beekeepers remained concerned about the use of systemic pesticides, including neonicotinoids, and surfacants in New Zealand agriculture, and their continued use presented dangers to bees.

The NBA executive is due to meet in the next couple of weeks and wants to address the issues raised in the parliamentary report with the Ministry for Primary Industries, with which Leahy said it had "a good working relationship".

The newly formed Bee Industry Advisory Council, which includes the NBA and Federated Farmers' Bee Industry Group, is committed to presenting a unified voice for beekeepers and wants to initiate a formalised bee health survey to provide some baseline data on bee health.