Honey is big business in Taihape.

Don and Conchita Tweeddale of Tweeddale Apiaries are one of New Zealand's largest honey operations with 18,000 hives on land throughout Wanganui, Taumarunui and Taihape. And they are buying more.

Mrs Tweeddale said the family business was based at Taihape where the honey was processed into barrels for big companies such as Comvita.

"We, of course, are buying more land for hives. Buying enough land is very important in this business," she said.

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The Tweeddale Apiaries was set up in 1945 by Stuart Tweeddale after WWII and the family business has been carried on by his son Don and grandchildren Mark, Kim and Steven, with Conchita doing all the administration work.

The 18,000 hives are in a 200km radius from the Taihape base.

Mrs Tweeddale said their honey was traceable to the property the hives were on, even though it was barrelled. And a modern processing factory and eight trucks made it a streamlined operation.

The family all lived near the factory and the business employed 35 people.

Three years ago Mr Tweeddale was part of the High Performance Manuka Plantations programme. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry announced a funding deal with the Manuka Research Partnership (MRPL) and Comvita NZ to invest more than $1.7 million into high-yield manuka plantations on backcountry land, including Taihape.

An MRPL statement said the scheme aimed to expand 16-fold the medicinal manuka honey trade for New Zealand from $75 million to more than $1 billion.

The MRPL brought together the Tweeddale Apiarists, Aborex Industries in Wairarapa, Taranaki firm Nukuhau Carbon, Landcorp and Hawke's Bay Regional Council.

Comvita was the largest Kiwi producer of manuka honey products and used more than half the country's supply of up to 3000 tonnes a year.

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The Tweeddales had bought extra land in the region to plant manuka, she said. Instead of making land less valuable, it was now sought after for the production of manuka honey.

The research project aimed to:

increase the medical-grade quality of manuka honey

double the number of hives by planting blocks at optimum density with plants that flower strongly and produce abundant nectar

double the land area in manuka that is easily accessible for beekeeper.

Mrs Tweeddale said the research programme was going well. There were already three PhD qualified scientists being trained and working with the programme,

Even though the Tweeddale harvest this year was down on previous years due to the weather conditions, the honey business was still doing extremely well, she said.