July saw two gatherings of beekeepers, one in North Island and one in South, put on by industry suppliers to promote their offerings as well as educate apiarists.
Bay of Plenty honey storage facility Mānuka Orchard, now in its fifth year of operating, hosted a gathering of about 80 people at the Paengaroa Hall on July 28. There beekeepers were told the export mānuka honey market is picking up, although the demand for high-end mānuka honey is still “not there” yet. Among those presenting was Oliver Smith of beekeeping supply company Beequip who, earlier that week on July 25, had welcomed about 40 beekeepers to the Moutere Hills Community Centre near Nelson, where advice on the use of oxalic acid bee treatments was front and centre and proved well received.
The topics at the Bay of Plenty gathering were more varied and presented by Mānuka Orchard owner Logan Bowyer, NZ Manuka Group honey buyer Tony Eggleton, Hill Labs’ Meghan Stannett and – fittingly for the event in the heart of kiwifruit country – Plant and Food Research scientists Ashley Mortensen and Melissa Broussard regarding their recent pollination studies, among others.
The open day followed a similar get-together at the same venue last winter and Bowyer says, once again, it was a successful event.
“It’s great to get our beekeepers together to share what we are doing at Mānuka Orchard with their honey, but also to help educate them on other matters around the industry. It also helps build a stronger beekeeping community and strengthen relationships between beekeepers by getting dialogue going.”
Among some of the points raised in Paengaroa were:
Bowyer’s presentation highlighted the dismal honey season seen in the North Island. Mānuka Orchard only put 2607 boxes through their contract extraction plant – less than a third of the previous season’s throughput.
“Blending is the new hero” Bowyer said, “which, with so much old honey stock sitting around, we all knew was going to happen”. He believes it is going to take “three to five years” to work through all that old stock though, given the ratio of old to new honey which must go into each new blend.
Further highlighting the issue of aged honey stock on hand, three-quarters of honey stored at Mānuka Orchard is now at 4°c, signalling it has reached ‘maturity’ and growth needs to be controlled. “I never though that would happen” Bowyer said of the abundance of honey being cooled. “The last few years have been like a perfect storm of factors working against beekeepers and it has led us here.”
“The outlook looks good” Eggleton said of NZ Mānuka Group’s international markets, with the honey buyer saying they expect them to bounce back after Covid has had its impact. “Covid was a real thing. It’s not just an excuse.” He identified Saudi Arabia as a growing market for the Group, and that beekeepers shouldn’t lose heart in mānuka as “there is light at the end of the tunnel”. “I’m confident the market is coming back. Our market research tells us there is more enquiry, which means I am going to have to be getting in touch to buy more honey from you.”
Both Bowyer and Eggleton painted the picture that, recently, it has been manuka in the UMF 5 to 15 range that has been in demand, but not above 15. With many markets in recession, demand for high-end honey is much less.
Research into the placement of hives in orchards has shown mid-row placement aids pollination success, with bees from hives placed on the outside of rows not as effective at penetrating to the middle of kiwifruit orchards, Plant and Food Research showed. As beekeepers know, that can result in diminished hive strength (especially in covered orchards), but Brossard said their research demonstrated this can be somewhat alleviated by providing a hole in the net above the hive.
Zespri representative Robin Baker-Gilbert told the beekeepers in attendance that, despite alternate methods of pollen application being available, they would never advocate for less beehives to be used. Around 10 beehives per hectare being the industry standard, depending on kiwifruit variety.
Also among those speaking was Smith, detailing some of Beequip’s oxalic acid products, much as was done in Nelson a few days earlier. Discussion among the beekeepers following that presentation showed a range of experience with various mediums such as ‘strips’ or ‘staples’ soaked in oxalic acid, and/or vaporisation products. Some in the Nelson area had moved to solely using oxalic strips, while others in attendance showed keen interest in greater use of oxalic acid within their beekeeping operations.