Rural property development company MyFarm this week said it had raised $6.25m to fund a 1000 ha mānuka plantation, with the first property to be established on the 500 ha Birch Hill station near Pongaroa, on the East Coast of the North Island.
The property is to be leased to and managed by New Zealand's biggest mānuka honey exporter, NZX-listed Comvita.
MyFarm said mānuka plantations will form a growing share of its syndication's portfolio as landowners and investors gain confidence in the economics of planting.
Chief executive Andrew Watters said New Zealand was going through a transition from animal products to more plant-based food production.
"This is an example of changing a kilogram of meat and wool to a kilogram of honey and carbon," he said.
MyFarm has 2000 hectares of mānuka forestry and the industry is estimated to be about four or five times that.
The rural syndication specialist says plantations can yield between $1800 to $2200/ha for land that has historically delivered $800 to $1200/ha of income over the past 10 years.
Production of mānuka is affected by a range of factors, many of which can be positively influenced through establishing forests.
New mānuka cultivars are selected from a population and tend to flower over an extended period compared to local native mānuka.
Improved mānuka cultivars are producing 1.7 – 2 times the amount of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) compared with general local indigenous mānuka growing in the same district.
Dihydroxyacetone is the precursor to methylglyoxal (MGO) which is itself the main agent behind the Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF).
Mānuka plantation honey is targeting high levels of production and higher concentrations of honey with a Unique Mānuka Factor (of greater than 10 UMF) that is a key determinant of the value of a honey harvest.
Mānuka plantation honey is shown to have much lower concentrations of other species due to the predominance of the plant.
In wild locations honey can be "contaminated" by nectar sourced from pastures and bush.
Ease of access to these sites, irrespective of the weather conditions, is critical to be able to place and retrieve the hives, tend to the bee colonies and to harvest honey.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has introduced stricter definitions for mono-floral and multi-floral honey, thereby raising the bar on product that can be labelled mānuka honey.
MyFarm says mānuka plantations generate revenue from New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
It says the ETS is forecast to generate $160/ha/year on the Birch Hill station.
Over 20 years MyFarm expects to sequester at least 100,000 tonnes of carbon on the Birch Hill syndicate properties as the trees grow to maturity.