The Bay of Plenty's manuka honey industry has become one of the first in the country to set up an advocacy group to help implement a manuka strategy.

The Manuka Action Group has been established as part of the region's Agribusiness Action Plan, one of the nine action areas of the Bay of Plenty Regional Growth Programme. Action group chairman Warwick Murray said the willingness of industry within the region to work together meant real gains could be made.

The group's objectives included expanding the Bay of Plenty's manuka estate, with a goal of 500ha of manuka planted annually. It also aims to diversify alternative land use in the region, support industry to collectively resolve industry-wide issues, encourage innovation and development, and provide an advocacy role for manuka-based agribusiness within the wider Bay of Plenty and Taupo.

"The development of [the group] has been a huge achievement, with representation from five of the major processing and export organisations in the Bay of Plenty sitting around the table, along with significant Maori landowners, Department of Conservation, and crown research institutes," said Mr Murray.

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"As a group, we have clearly established our objective of working together and coordinating our efforts to address challenges facing the industry. We're here for action, not just talk."

John Rawcliffe, general manager of the Unique Manuka Factor Honey Association, said there were a lot of regional land use and other differences across the country.

"Having these action groups forming to consider what is happening in their regions is very key."

New Zealand exports about 9000 tonnes of honey annually and the demand for Manuka honey, in particular internationally, significantly outweighed supply. Interest in oils extracted from manuka was also growing.

"Manuka honey has huge potential for growth, but there are still many obstacles the industry is facing in terms of realising that growth," said Mr Murray. "We are one of the early movers to start developing a strategy and many will be looking to us to help guide the way."

One of the key issues to be addressed by the group is boundary riding - the practice of beekeepers putting hives on land adjacent to a neighbour's manuka to access the nectar.

"You can't control bees," said Bronwyn Douglas, manager of Manuka Farming New Zealand, the commercial arm of the primary growth partnership between government and the Manuka Research Partnership.

"They can fly up to 6km from their hive. People will put their hives right on their fence boundary so the bees are going into their neighbour's manuka tree. It's major issue for the industry."

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Mr Murray said historically there was always a protocol amongst beekeepers about not crowding each other's patch.

"That protocol has kind of gone out the window, so you get hives clustered around a good crop of manuka, which raises problems of overstocking, bee health and biosecurity, and a whole range of issues."

Other priorities include informing landowners about technical aspects of the industry; establishing baseline data through sector assessment; identifying educational training opportunities, and advocating nationally on issues such as export standards, biosecurity and boundary riding.

Manuka Action Group includes:
Comvita NZ
Arataki Honey Ltd
NZ Manuka Group
Manuka Bioactives
Mossops
UMF Honey Association
Manuka Farming NZ
Maori Investments
East Coast Coalition
Te Arawa Primary Sector Inc.
Department of Conservation
Scion
Land Care Research
NZ Maori Council
Bay of Connections Regional Economic Development Partnership