ApiNZ Conference Shines Despite Gloomy Beekeeping Season
In an industry where many are feeling the bite of a bad honey production season, poor honey prices and disruptions from natural disaster, Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) and beekeepers put on a brave face for two days at the National Conference and Trade Show in Rotorua, June 29-30.
The turnout of just over 700 attendees was the smallest in recent times, nevertheless ApiNZ chief executive Karin Kos said she was “really happy” with the showing, considering the tough year many beekeepers had been through.
Energy Events Centre saw fewer trade displays than in previous years too, but a wide range of the beekeeping industry suppliers was still represented. With a series of social events in the evenings following the expert presentations, workshops and various competitions, there was still plenty going on for the two days. Conversations around lacklustre honey demand and prices, and the ever-present threat of varroa dominated conversations. Some of the key ‘takeaways’ follow…
Good start – Among the dignitaries welcoming conference attendees was local MP Todd McClay, who is also the National Party spokesperson for Primary Industries, and who came with a promise to beekeepers (should National be successful in this year’s general election) of a $3 million investment “to expand New Zealand honey into markets internationally, by removing barriers to our honey marketers”.
Does the boss know? – The following day pollical commentator Patrick Smellie took the stage to put some context around the performance and policy of our major political parties, which involved comment on McClay’s $3million announcement. “I don’t know where that came from and I don’t know if he does either, or if Chris Luxon knows about it.”
Zooming in – Dr Peter Neumann dialled in via video from Switzerland with a description of how COLOSS operates internationally to track colon losses, improve knowledge around bee research and advocate for bees. The scientist compared their work to a “superorganism”, “which achieves things which are impossible to achieve by individuals”.
The real loss – Beekeeper-scientist Oksana Borowik pointed out that although colony losses were reported at 13% in New Zealand’s most recent survey, 20.9% of colonies were considered weak, and so the real loss of good honey producing colonies was more than 30%.
Failing queens – David Tarpy from North Carolina State University reported on “a lot of anecdotal evidence” regarding reduced queen viability in many countries, however “we don’t have the empirical baseline data to show it”. He also reminded beekeepers when handling queen bees it is not just high temperatures that can reduce sperm viability, but chilling too. As for overall hive performance, Tarpy advised that too often beekeepers blame queens when problems are perhaps in the wider colony environment: “Bad queens are more of a symptom than a cause”.
Hidden danger – The American scientist also had a warning for those beekeepers who think their hives are varroa-free because they ‘can’t see any mites’. “Research has shown that, for every one mite you see on the back of a bee, there are 49 others hidden underneath bees. Therefore, you are only seeing 2% of varroa in your colony”.
1 + 1 ≠ 2? – Another recommendation from Tarpy was, as the population of a hive increases so too does the proportion of nectar foragers. Therefore, a beekeeper seeking honey production is better off with “one hive of 60,000 bees than two of 30,000”.
Keep it Kiwi – Betta Bees breeding programme owner Frans Laas warned the New Zealand beekeeping industry against importing any more bee genetics from overseas, saying “the grass isn’t always greener” while Tarpy said genetic bottle-necking shouldn’t be an issue in New Zealand, but vigilance should still be taken.
Are you a star? – Clifton King, in his last conference as national compliance manager for the AFB PMP asked beekeepers, have you agreed to a DECA? Do you know it? Are you implementing it? “If you can answer ‘yes’ to all three of those then you are a star. If not, I recommend you go home, download your DECA, read it and make a commitment to do it.”
Hard to read – King also shed some light on AFB honey testing and, saying the tests are useful when a negative result is achieved, to confirm there is no AFB present, and a spore count of 4000 or more is a major concern, but anywhere between 0 and 4000 and it is difficult to interpret the data.
Honey vault – Researching the properties of honeys is an expensive process advised Dr Megan Grainger of University of Waikato, who outlined three important pieces of equipment used and valued at $250K, $500K and “more than a million dollars”, plus expensive disposables. However, the industry could be better served by establishing a comprehensive “honey vault” of samples for researchers to draw on – but beekeepers would need to be more committed to submitting samples to make that happen.
Mite Mutation – A panel of varroa experts led some informative discussions, including the likelihood that there is New Zealand specific mutation in varroa which causes resistance to flumethrin, as all tests on the common resistance mutations found globally are not showing up in New Zealand mites, despite strong anecdotal evidence of failing treatments.
Simple answer – Asked why more research hasn’t been carried out on oxalic acid staples in New Zealand, Michelle Taylor of Plant and Food Research replied “to be brutally honest it’s funding. That’s why there is no research, because there is no funding. It’s devastating.”
ApiNZ AGM – After consecutive years of financial losses ($28,094 in 2022 and $19,809 this year) Chair Nathan Guy said the industry body was “grappling” with the change and sent the warning to members that, without an improved financial position, “we may not be able to deliver the same level of services you have come to expect”.
Plucking the Goose - ApiNZ life member Ricki Leahy addressed the AGM with his concerns around the continuing existence of a multifloral mānuka honey standard which he called “an absolute nonsense” and left the meeting with, “we have a golden goose in mānuka and we might not be quite strangling it, but let’s just say it is being plucked”.
Varroa be gone - Chief executive of the Australian Honey Bee Council Danny Le Feuvre outlined the Aussie plan to eradicate varroa, which he believed was promising given that they were 99.99% confident varroa have not established outside the hot zones, based off their surveillance. Inside those zones, hives, domestic and feral, continue to be destroyed if varroa is found. The eradication success does rely on their ability to kill off all feral colonies in many areas though, Le Feuvre says.
Confusion – The panel of honey market commentators discussion was not as insightful as previous years and almost solely centred around mānuka honey. The now well-worn line of needing to make our mānuka honey labelling less confusing to the consumer was wheeled out once again by the packers. A topic I’m sure the honey producers are sick of hearing going unsolved.
Glasson’s Apiaries – This year’s winner of the Sustainability Award for beekeeping business was Glasson’s Apiaries in Blackball, with owner Gary Glasson not present to accept the award. You can read all about the intergenerational West Coast business in our story from the September 2021 issue though!
Beekeepers’ Online Chat with Sam Whitlelock
All Black rugby player and Farmstrong ambassador Sam Whitelock will host a free, online session on July 20 where he will tackle issues around dealing with pressure, setbacks and challenges. The event, which will begin at 7.30pm, is hosted in partnership with ApiNZ for beekeepers anywhere in New Zealand in an aim to help them be physically and mentally prepared to perform at their best. Beekeepers are invited to register here.