For around four years the price of non-manuka honeys has been below cost of production for most beekeepers and in the past year even manuka honey prices to the beekeeper have suffered. For those reasons, the recent announcement of a funding boost from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) towards a two-year project into understanding how the apiculture sector can chart a sustainable course forward has been happily received by Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) who will soon get the work underway.
The project, which ApiNZ has been planning and seeking to fund over the past year, is akin to turning a light on in a dark room, says the industry body’s chief executive, Karin Kos.
Gaining a better understanding of the honey supply chain, existing and potential honey markets and the opinions of the country’s beekeepers as to the direction of the apiculture industry, will all form part of the project, which has a budgeted cost of $383,500. MPI will provide $225,000 of that, through the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, while cash contributions will also come from the Honey Industry Trust, plus honey companies Comvita and Manuka Health.
“It’s a big project for us. A long time coming, but we are really thrilled,” Kos says.
New Zealand’s beekeepers, along with other sectors of apiculture, will be sought for their opinions at an early stage in the project. That work will be conducted by two external consultancy providers.
After a “haphazard” few years, largely due to Covid disruptions, the time is right to get a project of this nature underway Kos believes.
“We are trying to take stock of where we are at and look for opportunities, but it is not about us saying ‘this is what we want’. It will involve a big exercise of going to the industry to get feedback. It is about surveys, focus groups and discussions at the national conference. We don’t want to predetermine any of the outcomes,” Kos says.
ApiNZ is unaware of any similar work which has been conducted in the past, and can confirm such a project has not been conducted since their formation in 2016.
Findings from early stages of the project, such as industry consultation, will determine some of the later work. However, one initial implementation project is an independently produced supply chain analysis.
“That will help determine where the value of exported honey is captured along the supply chain. It isn’t beekeeper focused, but very much across the whole supply chain to understand where value sits, from hive to consumer,” Kos says.
There will likely be a literature-search style element too.
“When it comes to market access, understanding consumers and consumer demand, we know there is already a lot of reports and info out there. Part of this project will be to bring all of that info together and distil it, to understand the picture better. We don’t think we need to spend a whole lot of time and money on new research, but we need to try to pull together what is already out there,” the ApiNZ chief executive says.
While the industry body has few staff, one is policy analyst Phil Edmonds. He is encouraged by the potential of the project to help fully identify the industry’s problems and chart potential solutions.
“There is definitely a market insight piece to be completed on non-manuka honeys,” Edmonds says.
“There are a number of areas the industry is calling for more knowledge and that is one of them. MPI are quite comfortable that we haven’t been able to identify exactly what they are. Part of that is due to the fact we want to hear what people have to say and determine where the road blocks are.”
MPI director of investment programmes Steve Penno believes the project will be the first step towards reinvigorating the apiculture sector by “strengthening collaboration”. That is something Kos has witnessed elsewhere.
“Other successful primary industries, such as the wine industry and the seed industry, have come together after strong setbacks to realise the value of collaboration,” Kos says.
“What that looks like, I don’t know and we don’t want to predetermine outcomes. Looking at other successful primary sectors, that is definitely a factor though.”