Indications from beekeepers up and down the country are that the 2021-22 honey season is shaping as an average yield nationally. We check in with a range of beekeepers, targeting a wide range of honey varieties, across many regions to gather their thoughts as the bees’ main honey gathering period comes to a close.
The word “average” is being used frequently by beekeepers this season, with individual regions dipping slightly above or below that middle of the road mark, but with few “disaster” areas.
On a national scale, “average” amounts to 28.5kg of honey per hive according to the Ministry for Primary Industries best estimates over the past 10 years. Last season the country averaged 25.4kg/hive for a total of 20,500 tonnes, whereas the summer previous to that (2019-20) saw a record honey crop of around 27,000 tonnes at 31.1kg/hive.
Indications are the current season’s crop will likely fall in between those two previous yields, with the all-important manuka honey crop subject to its usual variability over both North and South Islands.
Clover honey prices are on the rebound after a few years in the doldrums and certain areas of Canterbury, Otago and Northern Southland are reported to have brought beekeepers high yields, a combination which should please.
Native floral sources rewarewa, tawari and rata are said to have not flowered well, limiting their honey crop.
The honey season began poorly in the far north of the country, with the fickle weather of September and October limiting production of potentially high value manuka honey crops and leaving several calling the area a “write-off”. Lower in Northland, and in certain pockets of manuka, more settled late spring and early summer weather provided more productive conditions though.
“I haven’t heard too many people happy about their manuka and a lot of the big trucks left early and there are a fair few people getting around with feeding tanks now. That tells the story,” says Paul Martin, recent past president of Whangarei Bee Club and an Apiculture New Zealand board member.
A dry summer brought an early end to much of Northland’s bush and pasture flows.
Large operators Manuka Health say they have had an at least average season in Northland though, targeting manuka honey in later, November and December, flowering areas further south.
For those aiming for manuka honey lower down the North Island it seems the further inland and higher altitude they headed the higher total yields were likely to be, with that especially true in the Wairarapa.
Jim McMillan, director of True Honey Co, spends the spring and summer relocating hives, often via helicopter, to manuka honey areas for both his company and fellow beekeepers.
“Anything in peak flower from about 20 December onwards hit better weather through the Christmas and New Year period. Some warm and settled days. Some people would have got exceptional results, but generally on average 20 to 25kg per hive,” McMillan says of the Wairarapa.
On the East Cape the story was much the same, then on the western side of the North Island the Taranaki and into the upper Whanganui and Taihape area was productive for manuka crops, the third or fourth straight year that Taranaki has come up trumps.
“Taranaki provided a short and sharp flowering, but we got some lovely weather and will come in above average there. It burned off early though,” says Dave Campbell, Manuka Health general manager supply chain.
Egmont Honey have also reported better than average yields in apiaries in the Taranaki, while Kaimai Range Honey moved hives into a block in the region too, with owner Jody Mitchell happy with the take despite an earlier than liked end to manuka flowering.
“We did well, but for a while it was looking like it was going to be that one bumper season in 10. Then the first cyclone went through and took out a bunch of flower, then the second finished it off,” Mitchell says.
The Central Plateau is also said to have performed above average for manuka honey production.
Taihape based Tweeddale’s Honey owner Don Tweeddale says they expect “a good average crop on bush honey and a good average on manuka too” with their hives concentrated on the west side of the island benefitting from a more sheltered season than those further east, which proved more prone to wet and windy weather this summer.
As for other natives, tawari and rewarewa have not flowered well through the Bay of Plenty, King Country or Taranaki, Mitchell says.
While manuka honey is the primary domain of the North Island, there are still plenty of areas in the South where crops are targeted, but in season 2021-22 fickle December weather appears to have limited the take.
Taylor Pass Honey Co runs hives across Marlborough at the top of the island, then Central Otago and into Westland further south. When the sun finally came out around Christmas and New Year there was still some manuka flower left, so their take might have hit around average they report.
For Taylor Pass Honey’s Otago apiary manager Steve Wootton the clover honey crop has been very positive though.
“It was slow to get going with the cooler December, but January was good for about an eight to 12 day period where they really put it away. Definitely above average for clover. It came to a quick end, but pretty happy with it,” Wotton says.
Also in that area, Peter Ward of Alpine Honey Specialities says his manuka honey crop was stunted by the unproductive weather earlier, but the season eventually came right.
“Some areas have been really good, but manuka has been disappointing. The Central Otago area non-manukas, that’s clover and vipers bugloss, have gone really well. There has been good production. Northern Southland has been about average, but Central Otago was definitely the best area,” Ward says.
Further North, in Canterbury, honey production is said to have been successful in North Canterbury, while south of Christchurch it was more limited.
Midlands Apiaries, based in Ashburton, were limited by a “miserable” period of weather pre-Christmas, according to field operations manager Matt McCully.
“After Christmas it came right for a good period and we did an alright harvest, but nothing like last year. We did far better last year,” McCully says.
That aligns with the report of Hantz Honey owner Barry Hantz, based in Leeston.
“Clover has been average, probably a bit below, and for the amount of seed clover that was about it is a bit disappointing. It could have been a good year but there was just too much rain all the way through. We got a bit, but nothing too outstanding,” Hantz says.
“Around Canterbury most beekeepers will have got about an average crop, although some would have done better than others.”
Over on the West Coast kamahi crops were reduced due to the poor December weather, while the infrequent flowering rata trees largely took the season off.
When beekeepers talk about their honey crop, the conversation often moves to selling the product. On that note Manuka Honey’s Dave Campbell summed up the sentiment.
“I think some other larger outfits have done well too and the national crop shouldn’t be too bad,” Campbell says.
“Perhaps we needed a below average one to match supply and the demand better, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”