New Zealand’s cutthroat beekeeping industry

A seasoned beekeeper barely made enough profit as he watches the prices of New Zealand honey continue to fall.

John Berry, a third generation beekeeper in Hawke’s Bay, with over 50 years of experience with bees, has had an “OK” season, but it is unlikely that he will benefit this year from clover or clover honey. bush.

Unlike the rest of the world, New Zealand does not have a bee shortage. In fact, there are too many bees. But as the mānuka industry continues to thrive, other beekeepers face fierce competition, mites and wasps plagues.

Berry said he knew beekeepers in Hawke’s Bay and across the North Island who simply gave up their hives because they couldn’t afford their upkeep.

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“Beekeeping these days is so ruthless. Most new corporate beekeepers have already been to places where there are already bees and beekeepers. There is no love lost between no one.

Berry said there were no rules or regulations in terms of where the hives could be placed – spatial awareness among beekeepers was once a “gentleman’s agreement.”

“There are half a million more beehives in New Zealand than there should be and many are concentrated in certain areas. Most of the world is losing bees, but in New Zealand that’s not true – yet the story is still there. “

Berry said that because of this, people in urban areas would buy beehives because they thought they were doing the bee populations a favor, but it could be a struggle for bees to find food.

“Back then, bee lovers in the city were doing very well, but now every man and his dog has a beehive, and cities are mostly lawns, roads and rooftops.

John Berry says he's lucky to get $ 4 for a pound of clover honey and doubts he'll make a profit this year.

Georgia-May Gilbertson / Stuff

John Berry says he’s lucky to get $ 4 for a pound of clover honey and doubts he’ll make a profit this year.

“There aren’t a lot of flowers, and it doesn’t take a lot of beehives to completely flood an area.”

Based in Tamahere in the Waikato region, Jane Lorimer has been a beekeeper for over 30 years and was one of the first women in New Zealand to become a full-time beekeeper.

At the start of the summer, Lorimer had around 1,800 hives, now it has only 1,300, and the numbers continue to drop, mainly due to the reinvasion of varroa and wasps.

“Mānuka, depending on what you sell, you used to get $ 100 per kilo – now it’s $ 55 per kilo (depending on the quality), but local beekeepers don’t get that much, they could get around $ 20. ”

Beekeepers must find new ways to make money as they battle low honey prices in New Zealand.

Christel Yardley / Tips

Beekeepers must find new ways to make money as they battle low honey prices in New Zealand.

The price has fallen further for clover honey. Lorimer said beekeepers earn around $ 15 a kilo. That price has now dropped to around $ 4, and it costs $ 7 to produce a kilogram of honey.

“There are a lot of abandoned hives, the re-invasion of varroa and the costs of treatments for it have gone up, and the costs of compliance have gone up.”

Lorimer said the drop in prices reflected global honey prices and the focus on the mānuka trade.

“At first you couldn’t sell it, nobody liked the flavor, until the end of the sixties. People buried it. Then people started to look at the stories of old women about its antibacterial properties in order to help beekeepers.

NZ Beekeeping President Karin Cos said the health of New Zealand’s bees has been verified by annual colony loss surveys conducted by Landcare Research on behalf of the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Tamahere beekeeper Jane Lorimer said beekeepers are lucky if they get $ 4 for a pound of clover.  It costs $ 7 to produce a kilo of honey.  (File photo)

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Tamahere beekeeper Jane Lorimer said beekeepers are lucky if they get $ 4 for a pound of clover. It costs $ 7 to produce a kilo of honey. (File photo)

“The annual losses were around 11% or 99,150 colonies during the winter of 2020. Although that sounds like a lot, we have almost a million beehives in New Zealand.”

In the center of the North Island, including Hawke’s Bay, varroa mites were reported to be at 31.3%, the second highest level of mite problems across the country, and queen loss at 37 , 5%.

“We are hearing reports of high levels of Varroa in parts of the country, as well as wasp problems, including the Hawke’s Bay area again this year, and that this is creating problems for beekeepers and resulting in loss of life. ‘bees.’

Cos said the price of clover honey has fallen 25 to 50 percent in recent seasons.

The sole spokesperson for the Manuka Factor Honey Association, NZ John Rawcliffe, said the Manuka industry is strong, but other honeys are struggling.

Chris Skelton

The sole spokesperson for the Manuka Factor Honey Association, NZ John Rawcliffe, said the Manuka industry is strong, but other honeys are struggling.

“This makes it difficult for the beekeepers who produce these honeys. Much of this is a supply and demand problem (there are currently large reserves of honey in New Zealand – we have reported up to around 25,000-30,000 tonnes).

Unique Mānuka Factor spokesperson John Rawcliffe said that while the mānuka industry was strong, other honeys (clover and bush) were in a “produce zone”, with beekeepers finding ” very difficult to sell and to survive “.

“There is the cost of testing and varroa. It’s hard work just to make the basic honeys. The mānuka industry is very strong, it is taking hold, but it is constantly facing challenges such as MPI testing costs and foreign regulations. It’s on a pedestal, and when something is on a pedestal, it’s tested a lot.

John Berry says he's lucky to get $ 4 for a pound of clover honey and doubts he'll make a profit this year.

Georgia-May Gilbertson / Stuff

John Berry says he’s lucky to get $ 4 for a pound of clover honey and doubts he’ll make a profit this year.

Rawcliffe said there was still a hypothesis of a mānuka “gold rush”, but said there was not.

“The gold rush phase has gone well, business is strong, the consumer continues to buy and there is a lot of re-buy. It is the champagne of honeys, and it has been around for 25 years. The gold rush mentality is gone.

Rawcliffe identified a lack of boundary regulation regarding where hives could be placed.

“This is where there are no rules for the sandbox, you can’t expect gentlemen’s agreements to work when there is money.” Someone at the regional level in government has to make the rules in this environment, so that people can start playing co-operatively.

“We do it with water, we do it with air, we do it with space, so there’s no reason we can’t do it with beehives. With a lot of money, the “gentleman’s rules” don’t work. “

Rawcliffe said mānuka prices were “stable and strong” and the market “was stable” and honey had performed well during Covid-19 and export volumes had increased.

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