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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Discussion Days Takeaways

From trying to shape better industry representation, to American foulbrood (AFB) management, pollination importance, even tips on running your honey processing facilities, and much more in between, there was a wide range of topics traversed as New Zealand Beekeeping Inc (NZBI) hosted three South Island ‘Discussion Days’ in May. Apiarist’s Advocate editor Patrick Dawkins sat in on two to report some of what was discussed.

It’s three down, three to go, for industry group NZBI with their South Island events in Southland, Christchurch and St Arnaud at the top of the island, on May 25, 28 and 30, in the books. June will see the group’s executive host gatherings in the Bay of Plenty on the 8th, Whangarei on the 11th and Manawatu on the 15th.


Ashburton Apiaries owner Geoff Bongard addresses the approximately 60 people who attended the NZBI Discussion Day in Christchurch on May 28.

Around 30 beekeepers made their way to the Gore and St Arnaud discussions, while approximately 60 attended in Christchurch. A major focus of the get-togethers was to help NZBI get a feeling towards how beekeepers think their industry should move forward, and thus how the group should approach any future contributions towards the Honey Industry Strategy 2024-30. That document was put forward by fellow industry groups Apiculture New Zealand and Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) in February.

Conversation on that topic was surprisingly muted in Christchurch, while St Arnaud’s event saw a more free-flowing conversation result. Ideas raised included:


·        The need for the apiculture industry to be better recognised for the value of the pollination service provided, but at present our industry is “not big enough, we don’t get heard” it was said.

·        The need for a more coordinated domestic honey marketing strategy to boost consumption.

·        A constraint to beekeepers is the lack of information that flows from the honey markets back to producer, giving them a lack of confidence they are receiving the true value for their product.

·        “Mānuka alone will not get us to the $1billion goal set. The only way to get there is more R&D. How the industry will support it is the million-dollar question though,” contributed Sri Govindaraju of The Experiment Company.

·        There was concern in St Arnaud at the potential for a pest management plan for varroa, but the American foulbrood Pest Management Plan Agency’s Marco Gonzalez did point out they field a lot of calls from beekeepers wanting their help with

neighbouring hive owners who are not controlling varroa well, and they cannot act.

·        UMFHA chief executive Tony Wright joined the meetings in Christchurch and St Arnaud, usually happy to take notes, but occasionally called on to try to help clarify parts of the Honey Industry Strategy. Regarding decarbonisation of beekeeping, he warned that the need for higher standards are coming internationally “whether we like it or not”.

·        NZBI advisor Ian Fletcher chaired discussions in Christchurch saying “the strength of beekeepers is there is no groupthink, but it can also be a major frustration”.

·        There was concern that honey packers hold sway with government and that beekeepers lack the ability to have common sense ideas put forward on their behalf.

AFB Pest Management Plan AP1 Marco Gonzalez displays where the infectious disease of honey bees has been located in the Canterbury and West Coast regions in recent years.

Bookending those more general industry discussions were presentations from experts on a range of topics. Some of the key takeaways from Christchurch and St Arnaud events were:

·        On Farm Support is a division of the Ministry for Primary Industries that beekeepers may not be aware of, but can help beekeepers with a wide array of concerns and will try to facilitate solutions. “Don’t be afraid to give us a call, we don’t charge for our time” offered regional advisor Sarah O’Connell.

·        NZBI executive member and vastly experience beekeeper and businessman Russell Berry of Arataki Honey dished out some pearls of wisdom. He implored beekeepers to get together and communicate – “business is done at meetings and afternoon tea breaks”. “Control varroa, control wasps” he emphasised, with wasps “thrashing hives” in some North Island areas this past season. “Do not over capitalise and do not put all your eggs in one basket”.

·        Berry also announced that Arataki Honey was looking to buy propolis for $200/kg pure and they could collect, clean and return mats. He had some advice for collecting and storing the sticky stuff, but “above all”, he quipped, “keep your hives alive. Dead hives do not produce propolis”.

·        Another veteran beekeeper, Geoff Bongard of Ashburton Apiaries, imparted some advice in Christchurch regarding improving honey crops. His business has a 10-year average of 46kg a hive and achieved a 65kg average last year he says, with all hives double queened. He called “good, well-trained staff” their main asset while also stressing the need to keep queens young and ensure protein levels in the hive are maintained in times of natural dearth. They usually undertake at least two rounds of pollen patty feeding in each of spring and autumn and match the patty size to the colony size to reduce waste. “Limited pollen in autumn will limit spring hive strength due to reduced winter brood rearing”.


·        Bongard also detailed a scientist friend who was having success with a new “stick” medium for dispersing oxalic acid to colonies over a longer period than conventional ‘strips’ or ‘staples’, and who is looking for beekeepers to assist with trials.

·        The presentation of AFB Management Agency staff Niha Long and Marco Gonzalez were pertinent, given recent high-profile coverage of the Pest Management Plan. Long detailed a five-point plan for advancing the PMP: ongoing upgrades to Hive Hub, implementing commercial beekeeper training around AFB management, Disease Elimination Conformity Agreement reviews with beekeepers, an improved communications strategy which seeks to tell the Agency’s story better, and more efficient management of their resources given the decline in levy income in recent years.

·        Gonzalez reinforced “the main thing that contributes to AFB is not your neighbour, but your own beekeeping practices” and reassured beekeepers “enforcement actions from the Agency are the last resort and used when other options are not followed … if you are doing the job of AFB elimination, I am not interested in going into your sheds”. He also stressed that the AFB spore counts in supers “does not need to be high to spread the disease”.

·         AsureQuality RMP auditor Ilona Hart gave advice on how to achieve Step 7 and thus annual audits to the St Arnaud gathering. “Compliance is ongoing. It is not something you do the day before the auditor arrives,” she stressed, adding “doing what you have always done will not be enough for some people to stay at Step 7”.

·        At that top of the South get together, Govindaraju’s presentation of their latest kānuka honey research generated interest from beekeepers when she outlined The Experiment Company’s findings that the honey has anti-inflammatory properties and potential as an ointment to control eczema, psoriasis and hyperpigmentation of the skin. They have also developed a testing method to measure key compounds in kānuka honey which they will be making available to beekeepers in the coming honey season.

·        David Perry, general manager of AgFirst Nelson who acts as a consultant to orchardists, says hale-netting is common on new orchards in the area, but they recommend that 20-30% of it can be rolled back during pollination season to aid honeybee activity. Perry says a lot of research is needed to determine best practice pollination on new apple varieties. “There is huge opportunity for us to come together as growers and pollinators and determine best practice”.

·        Ivan Baird of Grasslandz provided insight into some of their clover growing trails in Canterbury and observed that honeybees tend to work white clover crops first, then red clover in the afternoon, noting it usually needed to be at least 20°c before they were seen on red clover plots.



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