There has been strong growth by the honey industry during the past few years but with demand and prices dropping by as much as 50 per cent compared to the previous season, there will be belt tightening and rationalisation, Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos says.

She said the strong growth and good returns in the past few years had attracted a lot of new entrants to the industry.

However, the domestic and international markets have been "a bit sluggish".

That combined with an over-supply of non-manuka product and a reduced demand from overseas, led to a drop in income for many in the industry.

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"We had an overheated market for the past few years.

"Certainly there is now a significant downturn."

In addition, the Ministry for Primary Industries introduced a new definition for manuka honey in 2017, and some of the honey produced did not meet the new criteria.

Kos said the industry was experiencing a "major reset" although the demand for manuka honey was still strong.

Overseas markets found New Zealand honey highly priced so customers were going elsewhere.

"What I am hearing is some people are leaving the industry but the ones who have been in the industry for a long time are aware of its ups and downs.

"They will know how to manage it."

"There is belt-tightening time for some people and we will see rationalisation," she said.

Tending to hives between Cromwell and Alexandra last week are apiarists from Alpine Honey, Hawea, Jeffrey Ward, left, Reuben Ward and Callum Frew, all of Hawea. Photo / Yvonne O'Hara
Tending to hives between Cromwell and Alexandra last week are apiarists from Alpine Honey, Hawea, Jeffrey Ward, left, Reuben Ward and Callum Frew, all of Hawea. Photo / Yvonne O'Hara

"Unfortunately, we are continuing to see falling prices and sluggish sales over the 2018/19 year as we compete with global honeys that typically sell for lower rates than our beekeepers have received over the last four to five seasons," Kos said.

While total registered hive numbers (up 11 per cent) and registered beekeeping enterprises (up 9 per cent) continued to increase over the 2017/18 year, Kos said it was unlikely this growth, particularly in the commercial sector, would continue given current market conditions.

Alexandra beekeeper Reece Adamson, of Wildpure Ltd, said the price had been elevated, which had caused a drop in export orders.

Also, there had been a drop in demand for non-manuka honey domestically because of the new specifications.

"Non-manuka honey was probably 30 to 40 per cent back on price to beekeepers."

He said for some that meant a drop of about half their income.

"The spike in prices during the last two or three seasons has been unsustainably high and now it is a return to normality and a market correction."

ApicultureNZ report

Honey volumes and hive yields were up by 35 per cent and 21 per cent respectively for the past season, compared to the 2016/2017 season.

The report highlighted the increased demand for pollination services with the expansion in several horticulture sectors including kiwifruit, apples, avocados, stonefruit and blueberries

Honey export sales continued to rise with a 6 per cent increase in 2017/18 to $348 million, driven by both higher export volumes and prices, and export volumes to the United States rose sharply to eclipse China as the largest market.

Southern Rural Life