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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Beekeeper Wellbeing: Financial Aspects

Subjective wellbeing of New Zealand beekeepers was empirically measured for the first time in the 2023 Colony Loss Survey, with the finding that beekeepers’ wellbeing was among the lowest across all primary industries. Data on eight different factors which affect beekeepers was collected, including ‘financial aspects of beekeeping’ which we take a deeper dive into here.

No factor was found to impact commercial beekeepers’ wellbeing in 2023 as profoundly as the financial aspects. That will surprise few – and possibly no one – in an industry whose main source of income, honey, has fallen so dramatically from the highs generated in the mid-2010s.

The preliminary results of the 2023 Colony Loss Survey found life satisfaction of commercial beekeepers to be below that of the dairy industry, sheep and beef, arable, horticulture and forestry, as detailed in Beekeeper Life Satisfaction Worst of Primary Industries. Since then a full and comprehensive report of all the wellbeing findings of the survey have been published in the international journal Bee World as an open access document, Perspectives on Well-being Among Commercial Beekeepers in New Zealand.

The survey found that 32% of New Zealand beekeepers were “very negative” about financial aspects of beekeeping and 37% were “somewhat negative”, for a total of 69% with a negative slant. Only 14% were “somewhat positive”, with just 2% “very positive”. The middle ground of “neither negative or positive” was occupied by 15% of survey respondents.

Beekeeper wellbeing is substantially lower than the New Zealand population as a whole the 2023 Colony Loss Survey found, and financial factors are the leading contributor.

While the Bee World paper outlines a wide range of factors that could impact financial aspects of beekeeping, honey prices are the obvious lead influencer. Otago beekeeper and chartered accountant Russell Marsh was among those who contributed to the article.

“Input costs have risen steeply in price in the past two years, alongside even sharper reductions in honey prices. Increasing expenses coupled with significant declines in income have forced many beekeepers out of business while straining the wellbeing of those sticking it out,” Marsh’s contribution states.

While there is no published guide to honey pricing, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) include their estimation of prices paid to beekeepers for hive products in their annual Apiculture Monitoring Data, which gives some insight into the pricing pains. In 2016 MPI detailed non-mānuka honey prices reaching up to $16/kg, by the 2019/20 season $5.50/kg was the best non-mānuka price reported, and low grades fell to $2.50. By 2023 an improvement in prices has been experienced, with a $4-$12 range for non-mānuka honey detailed by MPI.

For mānuka honey, the demand and pricing slide has been more recent. The MPI figures report value up to $160/kg to the beekeeper for high MGO honey, but that is not born out by anecdotal reports from beekeepers – including in the Colony Loss Survey findings – who say there is next to no demand for that grade of honey.

“You work extremely hard in this industry and when the industry is hit financially. It can become a game of mental will,” wrote one survey respondent.

Another painted a bleak picture for the chances of their business’s survival.

“Honey prices don’t even come close to covering costs and honey is the driver for my operation, 100%, and has been for the last 10 years. Owning a business without debt and still not keeping our head above water is like flogging a dead horse. Something has to change.”

Another stated “no money in the bank, but need to spend money to keep bees alive”.

Marsh’s commentary outlines the key role beekeepers play, and the compounding challenges that unfavourable finances can lead to.

“The beekeeper ensures the health of colonies by facilitating honeybee productivity, whether for honey production, pollination services, or other hive products. Yet, optimising productivity comes at considerable cost for commercial beekeepers. Labour, vehicles, bee health, and nutrition costs are the major input costs to beekeepers. To be effective, these inputs must be provided on time and without the beekeeper taking shortcuts.

“If a business is stable financially and has good access to extra finance, beekeepers can generally sit comfortably, knowing their livestock are healthy and profitability can be achieved. Even when things are not going so well, financially fit beekeepers can focus on fixing issues that arise. However, when funds are tight, beekeepers may need to make judgment calls on what is a priority or affordable. Any reduction in yield can ultimately impact future bee health and create a downward spiral effect on the business as the timing or quantities of management activities are compromised,” Marsh states.

The director of the NZ Colony Loss Survey, Pike Stahlman-Brown, says he is not surprised that financial aspects are the leading contributor to low wellbeing, given the inflationary environment’s role on costs, coupled with honey prices below the overall cost of production. These factors are well known and have seen many beekeeping businesses recede or fold for a number of years now. He knows only one other industry where financial aspects are playing such a leading role – strong wool producers.

While the survey results show that the financial impacts are not negatively felt across the board, that is not the perception amongst many beekeepers who are up against it, as one respondent offered.


“Mine is the same story being told by all beekeepers in the country. The financial burden of trying to maintain good strong colonies while having to continuously pay more for running costs and still being unable to sell your product for a profit or sell it at all is overwhelming for every beekeeper at this present stage.”

‘At this present stage’ is perhaps the telling point, as those beekeepers sticking out the financial strains would logically have an eye to a more profitable future, but in the meantime the wellbeing of more than two thirds of them are taking a negative hit.


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