• Patrick Dawkins

AFB Detective’s Mystery Honey

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Francis Proffit strode across stage at the recent national honey awards to claim top prize in the club category for his “mystery” honey, but the Taranaki Beekeepers Club member is better known for his dedication to tackling American foulbrood (AFB) through both his work with the club and as a travelling AP2 hive inspector for the national agency. We catch up with him soon after scooping his honey award to see how he achieved success in two crucial areas of beekeeping.

He's calling it “dark bush” and that’s what it was entered as at the National Honey Awards, June 30, but Proffit admits it’s a bit of a “mystery one”.

Collected from hives in a Taranaki valley featuring a range of native bush, including rewarewa and manuka, as well as some willow trees and farmland with clover pastures, the honey is very dark and judges were impressed, even suggesting it could have been entered in the open honey classes.

Proffit keeps approximately 20 hives, has been a member of the Taranaki club for a dozen years and an AP2 hive inspector for the past 10.

“Producing liquid honey is difficult for hobbyists, who don’t have access to sophisticated heat exchange systems. However, this sample had no granulation,” honey judge Claudine McCormick praised.

Francis Proffit shows off some of his national award-winning honey. The dedicated Taranaki Beekeepers Club member has not only collected the top honey for clubs in 2022, but spent years dedicated to the elimination of AFB in their region.

“It has a taste of raisin on the pallet. Dark honey like this is usually rich and bold, but this is different, there is no lingering aftertaste.”

While Proffit is understandably happy with the award, having beaten out “about 30” samples locally to earn his club’s nomination, it is work with local beekeepers to vastly reduce AFB infection in their region which he is most drawn to discuss.

“They get sick of me talking about AFB and varroa, but we have cleaned up New Plymouth and even Taranaki to have very, very low AFB. I put that down to talking to the beekeepers, both commercial and hobbyists.”

He is passionate about his work as an AP2 and says he freely gives much of his time to the work, getting calls from beekeepers most nights to discuss the matters of AFB. Annually he completes about 80 certificate of inspections (COIs) for non DECA registered beekeepers, adding a level of education into the work.

“I might spend an hour doing one COI hive inspection, all the while training the beekeeper and teaching them what to look for. It’s extremely rewarding. The Management Agency don’t know how much I do, especially with commercial beekeepers. If I am traveling around the mountain, to do a COI, I will stop to have a cup of tea and talk about their AFB problems.”

That travel is not limited to the wide-ranging Taranaki region either, with Proffit sometimes taking his caravan on the road – along with wife Christine running logistics and administration – to incorporate AP2 work with their holidays. He doesn’t charge mileage to the Agency until he gets on site, and the caravan covers his accommodation, giving the Agency a cost-effective “roving” inspector.

The former dairy farmer makes for a convivial and very approachable face for the Agency, something this author has experienced when the Proffits – caravan and all – incorporated some hive inspections in Marlborough into their South Island getaway a few summers ago.

His desire to help advance the beekeeping industry through AFB education and identification is obvious. It extends to taking a detective like approach to snuffing out sources of infection, which has undoubtably helped reduce its prevalence in his area.

An example of this was a recent project where the club worked with Gisborne lab dnature to test honey and hive samples for spores, pointing them to two suspect hives.

“I immediately inspected those hives and the surrounding areas and cannot find any AFB,” Proffit says.

“I have managed to trace them back to an old beekeeper that extracted honey. I think the positive honey samples came through his plant, but I’m still looking.”

Still looking for AFB and moving closer to elimination, while also adding “award winning honey” to his resume. While there might be an element of “mystery” to the Taranaki beekeeper’s honey the reason for success in reducing AFB is more obvious: passion and work ethic.

“I love it. It is extremely rewarding.”


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