Manuka honey competes for resources

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Daniel Paul, Apiculture NZ chief executive.
Daniel Paul, Apiculture NZ chief executive.

Beekeepers in the Bay of Plenty will be in "a bit of a quandary" as a result of the growth in the manuka honey industry, which is beginning to compete for pollination resources with major sectors such as kiwifruit, says John Hartnell, co-chair of new industry body Apiculture NZ.

Mr Hartnell formerly headed New Zealand Federated Farmers bee industry group, which last month came together with the National Beekeepers Association (NBA) to form Apiculture NZ.

The move was driven by the desire to create a more unified voice for an industry that has been largely fragmented for many years.

The challenges facing apiculture are key for the Bay. First, because it is the home to major listed honey company Comvita, NZ Manuka and other honey processors.

But also, crucially, because the massive kiwifruit export industry, despite the growth in artificial pollination, is still dependent on the honey bee.

The New Zealand industry has about 150,000 hives in the South Island, and almost 450,000 in the North Island. While numbers in the south have been largely static, the big growth has been in the north, and especially in migratory beekeeping, said Mr Hartnell.

"The rapid growth in the North Island has been based on manuka, rather than the traditional things such as [horticultural] pollination," he said.

"Obviously in the BOP, beekeepers are going to go through a bit of a quandary.

"Do they continue to support pollination activity, or do they favour manuka?"

Apiculture NZ will be holding its annual conference in Rotorua next month, and Mr Hartnell said kiwifruit exporting company Zespri had been invited.

"Our industry needs to understand what [Zespri's] future needs are from beekeepers," he said.

Apiculture NZ co-chairman Ricki Leahy said the move to create a more unified industry had been around for almost a decade, but had gained momentum at the past two national conferences.

"It has always been difficult for our industry to make progress dealing with government departments, because we haven't been speaking with a unified voice," he said.

A new board will be elected by June 10, with four commercial beekeeper representatives, four market sector representatives, and one representing beekeepers with fewer than 25 hives.

Apiculture NZ chief executive Daniel Paul said the new body was designed to attract and represent the entire industry.

"Beekeepers are a key component, but there are also the extractors, the packers, the exporters. We recognise the industry is much broader these days."

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