Kiwi bees kept buzzy on Canadian farms

By Patrick O'Sullivan

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Kintail Honey is exporting 150 million bees annually from its base in Takapau, a practice the family firm has been involved in for 25 years.

"Ninety-nine per cent go to Canada because of their hard winters," Kintail Honey director James Ward says.

"They have a natural attrition of what used to be 10 per cent, but it is getting up to about 15 per cent with varroa and all the viruses they have over there. There is strong demand.

"The early ones go to Vancouver for blueberries and cranberries. From about mid-March they go out to the Alberta prairies for the canola seed pollination."

The bees are sent in 1kg packages containing 10,000 bees and one queen to start new hives.

A western Canadian spring results in hives producing 60kg of honey, the highest yield of any country, thanks to long days and plenty of food.

"The Canadians are not allowed to bring in packages through the US border because of all the nasties down in the States," Ward says. "They are allowed to take in queen bees but they are not allowed to take packages - but some of them would love to."

A cool bee is a happy bee and the pallets are packed with dry ice surrounding the packages.

A customised air-conditioned truck with special air suspension takes them to Auckland Airport where plane cargo holds have been chilled for the direct flights carrying six million bees. Warm air can induce a wing-beating panic, which causes carbon dioxide levels to rise, leading to asphyxiation.

The queens for export are produced by an involved process starting with taking away the queen and larvae from healthy hives. New larvae are introduced in special little cups and then taken away 24 hours later after being fed royal jelly, which starts turning them into queens.

In a new hive they are protected by a cage from being destroyed by the resident queen, and the royal jelly diet continues until they are put into an incubator and then tiny hives so they can mate and become fully fledged queens.

Kintail Honey's bread-and-butter business is renting hives to pollinate stonefruit, pipfruit and kiwifruit, as well as honey production.

"Then we are into some small seeds, mainly carrots, onion and bok choy," Ward says. "There are more and more guys just chasing manuka, which we don't do. We just stick to the local market.

"We do honey production and pollination."

The company has four bases. Honey extracting and live exports are handled at the main base in Takapau and there are satellite bases in Masterton, Bunnythorpe and Te Puke. "We all feed off each other. The Te Puke base is for kiwifruit and we bring hives from Masterton and Bunnythorpe up to there."

The company has 40 employees but hires a lot of students and casuals for factory work during the honey extraction season.

Beeswax is exported to Germany. "It is used in cosmetics and church candles. It's huge," Ward says. "We sell a bit of propolis too. The wax and the propolis don't amount to much, but they help pay the wages."

Ward's great-grandfather established Kintail Honey in Dannevirke 65 years ago.

His ancestors came from an area in Scotland known as the Five Sisters of Kintail.

The company logo features a thistle and Ward's sons, Damien and Jason, are continuing the family tradition.

- Hamilton News

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