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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Kiwi Crew Report Back from Apimondia

With 3800 people in attendance, the 48th International Apicultural Congress – or ‘Apimondia’ as it is colloquially known – was a proverbial ‘hive of activity’ in Santiago, Chile, September 4-8. Among those taking in the sprawling trade displays, 230 expert speakers and informal conversations were about a dozen Kiwis, who report back for us on the sights, sounds and even tastes, of the world’s biggest gathering of beekeepers.

In an event as large as Apimondia it’s nice to have a fixed point to rendezvous, and for many of the New Zealand contingent that was the silver-medal winning booth of Mānuka Orchard, the only New Zealand display at the global apicultural showcase.

The silver award winning display of Mānuka Orchard was a good meeting spot for the New Zealand contingent at Apimondia in Santiago. Ralph, at left, and Jody Mitchell, far right bookend the Mānuka Orchard team of, from left, Christian Cadenas, of Almighty Honey, Sally Ross and Logan Bowyer, plus Cameron Jefferies of JBees Honey.

Owner Logan Bowyer took a team of four to spread the word about the range of honeys produced in New Zealand – including, of course, that for which is the business is named – and not only has he deemed the trip a success on that front, but judges awarded their display a silver medal.

“We got ‘secretly shopped’ three times in the five days, apparently, and our story was bang on,” Bowyer explains.

“A silver award for that is not too bad, I think. A lot of the companies that go there have been doing so for years, whereas this was our first display.”

There is also hope that one of his team, Bay of Plenty Beekeeper Cameron Jefferies’, JBees Honey may win an award in the World Honey Awards, with it progressing from the judges table to final lab testing which takes place post-event.

Regardless of a medal there or not, Bowyer says the suite of New Zealand honeys they offered at their display were very well received.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into or who would walk through the door, but we had everything from a guy who has never touched a kg of honey, but is building a 5000-tonne processing plant, through to all the Chilean beekeepers who had heard the name mānuka but knew nothing about it. They didn’t know whether it came from a flower, a bush or a kiwi. So, we were able to educate a lot of people,” Bowyer says.

They went through about 5000 tasting sticks, with southern rata proving a popular taste for the South Americans. The antibacterial properties of mānuka were highlighted in a couple of case studies too, with one American beekeeper now looking to order in a consignment for sale in the USA after twice daily application of some Mānuka Orchard product cleared up an ear complaint, while a Canadian booth holder used some mānuka hand cream to alleviate lasting pain from a recent bee sting.

The Mānuka Orchard booth and New Zealand honeys proved popular, going through more than 5000 tasting sticks in five days.

“Both of them were happy to stand in front of the camera while we filmed. We had three camera crews come through to film and talk to us, one from America, Chile, and a couple of Instagram influencer ladies who were all about the hand creams,” Bowyer says of the exposure they received.

Honey Adulteration

On the topic of honey, once again adulteration was a major talking point.

“Not so much about ‘fake’ honey, but the blending of Chinese honey with other types of honey from other regions, to make it seem like they are producing more,” explains Comvita’s head of apiary Carlos Zevallos, who, as a fluent speaker of Spanish, took more from the event than many others.

Chile played host to the 48th Apimondia, in Santiago, September 4-8.

“A major complaint seemed to be the Ukraine honey in Europe which was being allowed greater entry to the EU because of the war, but beekeepers are saying there is more Ukraine honey entering the EU than what they are producing in the Ukraine. So, there is probably a lot of blending of it with Chinese honey to flood the markets in Europe.”

With adulterated honey driving down honey prices globally, all legitimate producers feel the flow on effect. There is also the longstanding issue of New Zealand honeys and questions of adulteration as they struggle to gain market access due to issues like high C4 sugar levels, elevated HMF, and low diastase, despite those characteristics potentially being naturally occurring. Therefore, Bay of Plenty beekeeper and first-time World Bee Awards judge Jody Mitchell took the opportunity of Apimondia to make some headway in her pet project of alleviating those global concerns regarding New Zealand honeys.

“I was able to gain assurances from some major global labs that they would let us submit New Zealand honey libraries to validate authenticity,” Mitchell says.

“The UK is working on some new honey profiling and told me that, if we submit them some honeys, they will add them to their profiling.”

Now the New Zealand honey industry needs to work together to pull together an appropriately accurate and representative honey library to make any such submissions count, she believes.

“The issues we are having seem to be coming up with a lot of tropical honeys from around the world. We are not alone and different scientists are looking at different things going on in honeys. It means, if we can get our ducks in a row and sort out what our profiles are, then we can present that to the world with analysis behind it. Instead of us having to fit into a European honey box,” Mitchell says.

Jody Mitchell, fourth from right, was a rookie judge at the World Beekeeping Awards where she sipped the world’s best meads and ran her eye over leading innovations.

The Kiwi Judge

While it was not her, or husband Ralph Mitchell’s, first experience of an Apimondia, it was a long-awaited opportunity for Mitchell to attend as a judge of various classes. While the organisation of the competitions could have been better, Mitchell says it was a privilege to be able to judge the world mead competition, as well as the beekeeping innovation and invention class, while also running her eye over the honeys, media section and beeswax competition, among others, as an interested attendee.

“The meads were incredible, there was some amazing stuff there. The Europeans are the experts and a Slovakian won World’s-Best. There were some amazing honey wines too, including a brilliant Rosé honey wine,” she says.

It wasn’t just a judge’s hat Mitchell was wearing either. She also attended as the New Zealand representative to the Apimondia international federation’s official meeting, which she calls “like the League of Nations”. There it was decided that Tanzania will host the 2027 Apimondia (beating out UAE, subject to their completion of an appropriate venue). That will follow the bi-annual event’s Norway experience in 2025.

Around 3800 people, from all around the world, attended Apimondia, a lesser attendance than that of recent events in the northern hemisphere.

Bee Health

On the topic of other Apimondias, Santiago was the fifth event New Zealand Beeswax general manager Nick Taylor has attended.

“It was great to get back out into the world again and see beekeepers, suppliers, researchers and customers on the global level. The event itself was very good, but wasn’t quite 100 percent polished,” Taylor says.

The expo was a little smaller than events he has attended in the northern hemisphere.

“That is testimony to the style of beekeeping in South America. It’s a bulk honey producer, cooperative, low-cost model part of the world. High-end products out of North America and Europe don’t fit that market as well as others.”

With bee health products a staple of the New Zealand Beeswax catalogue, that is where Taylor’s focus lay and varroa was once again a hot topic. In terms of new varroa control products there doesn’t appear to be anything revolutionary on the horizon for New Zealand beekeepers and Taylor says some of the scientific presentations were just confirmation of what beekeepers knew or assumed, especially around the pros and cons of oxalic acid use.

Carlos Zevallos, Comvita head of apiary, meets Californian scientific beekeeper Randy Oliver, who presented some of his research.

A new term ‘unhealthy brood odour’, or ‘UBO’, was floated by the scientific community as a way of bees detecting varroa infested brood cells, and there was some focus on breeding for varroa resistance, Taylor says. That is a report confirmed by Zevallos who put his understanding of Spanish language to good use for a presentation on success being had in Bolivia allowing Africanised bees to self-select resistance to the mite.

“We could do that in the European bees too,” Zevallos believes.

“The solution to varroa for beekeepers around the world is in genetic selection, not trying to find a silver-bullet treatment. South America is showing us that it can be done.”

Troubles managing varroa was a constant for beekeepers from around the world that Zevallos spoke to. Pike Stahlmann-Brown, author of New Zealand’s Colony Loss Survey, was also in attendance and was taken by talk of amitraz resistant mites, something that has not been widely reported in New Zealand.

“I saw a presentation that stated amitraz resistance was widespread in France and they were asked ‘what do you treat varroa with in France?’ and their answer was ‘we only treat once a year and we only treat with amitraz.’ Everyone sort of said ‘well…’,” Stahlmann-Brown says.

That is a warning for Kiwi beekeepers not to abandon integrated varroa management plans.

Talk of miticide resistance was prevalent at Apimondia and New Zealand beekeepers should take heed of the experiences of beekeepers from around the world regarding singular miticide use.

“The temptation is to only use one treatment because it is so successful, but that will only breed mite resistance. In Europe they have flipped from flumethrin use to only amitraz and haven’t been mixing it up, so now they are getting resistance,” Stahlmann-Brown warns.

Meeting the Locals

SJA Honey owner Jason Marshall is another who has attended several Apimondias and says they are a good opportunity for Kiwi beekeepers to expand their understanding of the world of beekeeping, because we can become insulated in our thinking in New Zealand. With that in mind, he called in on a beekeeping friend and met several Chilean beekeepers.

Mānuka Orchard head home from their first visit to Apimondia with a silver medal for their outstanding display.

“It reinforced to me that the industry, globally, is driven more by pollination than honey,” Marshall says.

“The industry is pretty upbeat over there. The Chileans are very labour-intensive in their beekeeping and it reminds me how we might have kept bees 100 years ago. There is a lack of systemisation. It is a commercial industry, but not very efficient from what I could see.”

That is driven by a lower wage economy making labour more affordable. The visit did put our problems in perspective too.

“The only thing that is not going good in New Zealand is mānuka honey. I think we need to remember that everything else is going well. We see all the mānuka in the shed and focus on that, but there is a lot to be positive about” Marshall says.

With that in mind, Honey New Zealand head of apiculture Adam Rundle’s attention was caught by presentations from two honey producing areas trying to replicate the value-add that mānuka has achieved. One was a small Greek island, but the other was a much larger area, the host country of Chile, touting their ‘Active Patagonia Factor’ or ‘APF’. From what Rundle could see they had no anti-microbial properties greater than any other honey to fall back on though.

“The studies they have done, they stacked them up against mānuka honey, which goes to show we are an international benchmark for other countries trying to derive more value for their honeys. I don’t think Kiwi beekeepers should be concerned there is a great threat out there, but they are trying,” he says.

The Wrap

All up, those with knowledge of several Apimondia events say the Santiago experience, while still very rewarding, lacked some of the scope and structure of previous events. Despite that, the Kiwi contingent took plenty from the visit to Chile.

“We haven’t saturated the world with mānuka honey and there is plenty of people who want to learn more about it,” Bowyer says, following their myriad of conversations at the award-winning Mānuka Orchard stand.

“There was only a small group of us, but we worked really hard to promote New Zealand beekeeping,” Mitchell concludes.

Already the thoughts of several of the Kiwi contingent are moving towards the next Apimondia, in 2025.

“It was a joy to be there,” Taylor says, adding “It’s a great event and I’m already really looking forward to the next one in two years’ time in Copenhagen.”

Jody and Ralph Mitchell squeezed in a beekeeping-centric visit to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) which, of course, included a visit to some of the 394 Moai statues.


Beekeepers Amongst the Moai

Jody and Ralph Mitchell couldn’t let the opportunity to visit Rapa Nui (Easter Island) pass during their visit to Chile so, prior to Apimondia, they took the six-hour flight from Santiago, 3500 miles west, to the Chilean territory. Of course they checked out the Moai statues which the remote Polynesian island is renowned for, but also mixed in some beekeeping.

“We got to open up some beehives. They have no pathogens, no diseases, no AFB, no varroa, just nothing. They are not having to use chemical treatments at all,” Mitchell says.

While Chile has already banned importation of bees or honey products (attainable due to their coastal, mountainous and desert boundaries), Rapa Nui (population 7750) is also further protected from apicultural imports from the far-off mainland.

“Their crops are all tropical fruits and the bees can collect honey all year round. So, they can get crops of 90 or 100kg, if the hives don’t swarm.”

It’s delicious tasting honey too, according to Mitchell’s well-educated palate, with bees foraging on flowers such as banana, guava, mango and passionfruit.

“They are a good little team promoting beekeeping and honey from their environment. They have a good sustainable thing going. Sometimes they lose some hives, sometimes they run a few more. It seems to go round and round.”


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