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  • Patrick Dawkins

Editorial: A Deeper Look at Industry Data Identifies the Pain Points

Recently the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) released its Apiculture Monitoring Data for 2022, you may have seen some analysis of it around the industry (these days the data is provided in spreadsheet form and a lot of numbers, whereas until 2021 they had compiled a full report on the industry. So higher fees from MPI, less service to the industry?).

Patrick Dawkins

The big numbers are always the first place to look – total registered beehives down from 811,668 in 2021 to 730,806 this year, predicted national honey yield of 22,000 tonnes (as compared to 20,500 the year prior and 27,000 and 23,000 before that). A drop back in honey export volume and value from the record-setting 2021, but still a growth in that area compared to all previous years.

There is a heap of other data though, from predicted honey prices to the beekeeper to the costs of doing business (itemised down to things like labour, varroa treatments, sugar) as well as a breakdown in the value of other beekeeping products and services (think pollination, queen bees, bulk bees, pollen).

While much of the data must be taken with a grain of salt (I know my own cherry pollination fees fall well below MPI’s supposed low point for the industry), it is a useful snapshot, if for no other reason than to assess industry trends.

On that note, the biggest takeaway is the continual reduction in registered beehives (now down to 730,806 from a high of 918,026 in 2019). While those numbers will be of no surprise to anyone (not least of all our readers as I think we have painted an accurate picture of the honey industry’s struggles), digging a little deeper into them paints a fuller picture…

Since the mānuka boom years, the North Island has always had more than three times the number of registered colonies as the South, but it is there that the industry appears to now be feeling the most pain as registrations drop away at a much faster rate. The decline in 75,406 colonies in the past year in the North (609K to 533K) represents a 12.37% decrease. Compare that to the South Island where the drop from 202.5K to 197K means 5456 less hives, or just a 2.69% decrease.

The sharper drop in the North (nearly five times the rate of the South) is undoubtably largely due to the pinch in the mānuka honey market, especially when compared to the longer-term trend of hive reductions since the highwater mark of 2019. The South Island’s biggest reductions came immediately following the realignment of the mānuka honey export standards which played havoc with the domestic non-mānuka/low-grade mānuka market in 2018/19. Meaning, the 5456 hive reduction this period – while still falling – is a slowdown from drops in hives of 6569 and 15,370 in the two years prior to that.

Overall, since the highs of 2019, the North has seen a 23% decrease in registered hives (from 693,552 to the 533,727 of this year) nearly twice the percentage drop of the South’s 12% (224,474 to 197,079).

Having a look at the percentage changes to the registered beekeeping “enterprises” (think businesses) since 2019, there is a dramatic drop off in commercial operators. While the very top end of 3000+ hive holders has only gone from 49 to 43 (12% change) the most dramatic fall has been from 1001-3000 hive owners, and 501-1000 hives where 28% and 31% reductions respectively have been seen. For smaller commercial operators with (for the purpose of this example) six to 500 hives, the reduction has been less dramatic at 16%. While some people will have left the industry completely, it’s likely that many are just reducing their number of total hive holdings and thus the medium sized commercial operators are becoming smaller commercials.

That’s just my look into a couple of areas of the data, and I would recommend a cursory glance at least at the info as a way of seeing how your beekeeping compares. Anecdotally, what I’m hearing is even more beekeepers selling hives and leaving the industry at present. So, I expect, this time next year both the total registered hives and enterprises to have dropped significantly again.

MPI’s apiculture monitoring data is available here.


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