Planting manuka could be the newest solution to Hawke's Bay's erosion problems, according to a plantation trial above Lake Tutira.

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council trial has 140ha of trees planted in a trial aimed at assessing the profitability of manuka plantations on steep hill country.

Council catchment services manager Campbell Leckie said Hawke's Bay had up to 280,000ha of highly erodible steep hill country and estimates showed annual sediment loss was more than 7.5 million tonnes per year across the region.

Leckie said the region's erosion and sediment loss issues could be solved by planting manuka.


"The reality is for some of that steep hill country is it's better off in a tree crop rather than in stock."

Leckie said effects of climate change meant more regular high-intensity storms were causing slips in these areas.

"Planting trees will strengthen the farm against soil erosion and that's a good thing in terms of not losing fences and infrastructure in slips and not having sediment in the rivers."

Leckie said the trial also showed that planting manuka could be very profitable through the sale of manuka honey.

Figures from the council suggested income from manuka honey could be more than $2000 per hectare in comparison to sheep and beef farming which delivered about $500 per hectare.

Leckie said the right conditions would be needed to reach such returns.

"It's like any other commodity. It's like milk, it's like wheat, it's like timber, it goes up and down and cycles both according to the market and particularly, with manuka honey, to the weather and what you can harvest."

He said a high unique manuka factor (UMF) of the honey would be necessary but that the region had recorded high UMF from naturally occurring manuka.

Leckie said the UMF recorded from honey samples from the trial had been between 4.7 to 10.6 but had the potential to increase.

"It's highly likely that both the UMF for the plantation will go up and therefore the potential commercial value will go up," he said.

"As soon as it starts to get to that 15-20 plus, the value of the honey goes up significantly."

Leckie said the Hawke's Bay manuka season lasted about six to eight weeks, starting in October and ending in January.