DOC Dodges Fee Changes Despite 2019 and 2021 Review Recommendations
The Department of Conservation (DOC) was made aware of the honey industry’s struggles and their own internal review recommended a reduction in the concession fees placed on non-mānuka beehives as early as 2019, information released to Apiarist’s Advocate under the Official Information Act reveals.
Concerns about DOC’s decision making on whether to allow or deny beekeepers placement of hives on Conservation land were raised in November 2022 in DOC’s Treatment a Bitter Pill for Beekeepers, including high site fees, over charging due to mis-calculations of fees, impractical ecological assessments and inertia within DOC communications and decision making. Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ), on behalf of beekeepers, said they lobbied for a reduction in hive concession fees with DOC, but were frustrated at the lack of action towards change. The Department has stated that a review started in 2021 is “ongoing”.
However, Apiarist’s Advocate can reveal that it was in June 2019 that ApiNZ first flagged the struggles of the honey industry to DOC and staff at the Department undertook a “Price Book Review of Beehive Activity Fees” later that year. It recommended a reduction in non-mānuka honey fees from $30/hive to $17, and for mānuka honey producing sites an increase from $75/hive to $89/hive.
The review stated the changes were “considered reasonable given that the fall in non-mānuka honey prices is partly on account of tightening of mānuka honey stipulations outside the control of the beehive concessionaires”, and for mānuka honey, “the higher recommended fee is reasonable considering continued demand in mānuka honey”.
Coming up to four years on from ApiNZ first flagging the issue of depressed honey prices, beekeepers continue to report non-mānuka returns below cost of production, while mānuka honey demand and prices have also fallen sharply for most or all grades, yet DOC has chosen to maintain pricing set during boom years for the honey market.
Correspondence between the Department and ApiNZ reveals the request for fee reduction was rejected in August 2019 because factors at play in the domestic and international honey markets were seen as “temporary” by DOC. While certain market factors have changed in the past four years, rising costs and falling returns have seen New Zealand’s commercial beekeeper numbers drop every year since 2019 and total national registered beehives fall by 20% over the same period as apiarists battle to cover costs.
The Department is not unaware of beekeeper struggles, as they have continued to resource surveys of concessionaires and reviews of beehive activity fees. One example being a May 2021 review which informed DOC decision makers that returns to beekeepers for non-mānuka honey had fallen from $11.30/kg in 2017 to $3.75 in 2021. Again, the report recommended a reduction in fees for non-mānuka beehives and an increase in fees for mānuka honey hives, but specifically those producing a monofloral crop.
The review encouraged a move from two honey categories (mānuka and non-mānuka) to three for fee setting. It found monofloral mānuka producing hives should be charged at $100/hive (up from $75), multifloral manuka producers $40 (down from $75) and non-mānuka $15 (down from $30).
While these changes were never implemented, internal correspondence from December 2022, a month after Apiarist’s Advocate’s story on concession fees ran, saw DOC management blaming the “system” for their prevarication.
“(The 2021 review) was signed off however, there were implementation issues as our activity fee returns couldn’t accommodate for three categories. Based on this, the decision was made to keep the fees as is, and to revisit the pricing in a couple of years once the system was updated,” the Department’s commercial manager stated.
So, while beekeepers leave the industry and many who remain struggle to keep their business afloat into a fourth year of honey price woes, they will be getting no sympathy from DOC’s decision makers – seemingly no matter how many reviews recommend they act otherwise.