Monday, 26 November 2018 12:33

Honey not a gold rush for all

Written by  John Wright
In the past decade or so, NZ’s beehive numbers have jumped from 300,000 to over a million on the back of the manuka honey hype, but many of the country’s beekeepers are now struggling to make any money. In the past decade or so, NZ’s beehive numbers have jumped from 300,000 to over a million on the back of the manuka honey hype, but many of the country’s beekeepers are now struggling to make any money.

OPINION: Honey isn't the gold mine the media often sets it out to be.

It seems that nowadays, every few weeks, there is reference in the news media to honey as ‘liquid gold’, creating the impression that anybody with a few beehives is making a fortune. 

However, you don’t have to scratch the surface much to find this is not all true. Much of this is due to the manuka honey ‘gold rush’. 

Why is this?

Originally, New Zealand top-grade honey was based on South Island clover. The country’s bee population was about 300,000 hives spread proportionally 50/50 between the North and South Islands.

NZ produced about 1000 tons more than we consumed and this 1000-odd tons was exported at international prices, which also set the price that NZ packers paid local producers.

Ten or more years ago, Professor Peter Molan of Waikato University was researching natural medicines and found that a small percentage of pure manuka honey had medicinal properties. This started a frenzy and – with good marketing – it seemed all the world wanted manuka honey.

Suddenly honey (manuka) that was once low-priced was commanding prices of $20 - $200/kg. Our pasture honey, which was selling at $4 - $5/kg climbed to $12 - $14/kg in 2016, mainly owing to the practice of mixing it with manuka honey and selling it as manuka-blend

Then NZ’s hive numbers climbed to almost 1 million – many owned by international companies. Competition for sites became intense with many local beekeepers being overwhelmed by large numbers of other hives, or by dirty tricks such as having their hives poisoned, burnt or stolen.

Overseas buyers became disillusioned at the quality of the manuka honey they were receiving, to the point where they started to withdraw it from their shelves.

This prompted MPI to develop a scientific test to define the purity of manuka. Now any honey exported from NZ, labelled as ‘manuka’, must be stamped on the label or drum as complying with the MPI test.

This means that only pure, certified manuka can command a premium price and non-pure manuka is rated along with all other honeys as table-grade honey. This honey, which until the new MPI testing regime sold at $10-$14/kg, is virtually unsaleable. Prices now are $5-$7/kg, but the packers are not buying. I have even heard of sales at $3/kg by desperate beekeepers.

There would be thousands of tons of last season’s crop sitting in beekeepers’ honey houses unsold and we are now at the start of the new season’s production.

There are beekeepers who will only place hives to get rated manuka honey and will not place hives for pasture honey, as the prices offered make it unsustainable. The sad thing about this is that farmers are now encouraging beekeepers to place hives on their farms as they realise the importance of clover in view of the nitrogen caps being placed on them.

I believe the future of beekeeping will go back to pre-manuka days, when surplus honey will be purchased by overseas buyers at international prices and will set the price paid for table grade honeys. 

While this will clear NZ stocks, it will not be at a price many producers today – particularly those who have recently come into the industry – will be happy with.

• John Wright is a beekeeper with 65 years’ experience, including 56 years exporting comb honey.

» Connect with Rural News

More like this

Beekeepers struggle as honey money gets sticky

The honey market downturn has impacted the profitability of many beekeeping businesses, particularly those producing the non-manuka honeys, says Karin Kos, chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand.

» The RNG Weather Report



Proper training beats learning on the hoof

New Zealand's first professional dairy cow hoof trimmer has fulfilled a long-held dream, setting up a training institute to bring internationally recognised standards of hoofcare to the industry.

FE researchers aim to raise awareness

Facial eczema in dairy cattle can cause significant production losses without visible symptoms, says a new group formed to raise awareness of the disease.

» Connect with Rural News

» Connect with Rural News

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

The Hound


The Hound notes that one of the country’s poorest financially performing state-owned enterprises – the Government farming entity Landcorp (or…

Rural revolt

Your old mate hears that the antics of the Government – especially the NZ First component – are fuelling motivation…

» Connect with Rural News