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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Summit Day Takeaways

The Industry Summit Day held at University of Waikato on June 18 had a heavy focus on the Honey Industry Strategy of hosts Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ) and Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), but there were more beekeeping-specific discussions too. We explore some of the key takeaways.

Experts from outside the honey industry, such as in law, trade and a fellow primary industry offered insight from the stage of the large conference room in the morning session, while Californian scientific beekeeper Randy Oliver presented via video link in the afternoon, followed by American foulbrood (AFB) Pest Management Plan Agency representatives in person. Given those varying personal, topics discussed were diverse…

ApiNZ Chair Nathan Guy addresses the Honey Industry Summit at University of Waikato on June 18, saying “For ApiNZ and UMFHA to go anywhere, it needs to be supported by beekeepers”.
  • ApiNZ chair Nathan Guy believed apiculture could take heed from seeing other primary industries bounce back from downturns, highlighting the rise of kiwifruit. He saw the Horticulture Export Authority (HEA) as a logical next step, but a honey levy under the Commodities Levy Act was the “ultimate”, despite it likely taking many years. “Right now, to beekeepers, a levy is a cup of cold sick,” Guy acknowledged, but “in time, a levy with a focus on research and bee health is a no-brainer”. He added, “for ApiNZ and UMFHA to go anywhere, it needs to be supported by beekeepers”.

  • Despite defeat piling upon defeat in the trademark courts, Mānuka Charitable Trust chair Victor Goldsmith reinforced their dedication to the mission of trademarking mānuka honey. “This is a legacy mission for us. We are in it for a long, long time and we are not willing to let our taonga be bastardised out there… we might have lost the battle, but we haven’t lost the war.”

  • UMFHA chair Rob Chemaly stressed the importance of “the highest quality benchmarks” that a united brand offers to protect “our honey”. Adding, “market share is everything”.

  • Particularly enlightening to the potential direction of any future industry body, or levy, were the words of commercial lawyer Stephen Franks, who UMFHA has funded to analyse the industry. He described the HEA as a “clumsy fit” and “quite antiquated” but a potential “economical” start, with membership only in the realms of $65,000 annually. It would require parliament amendment to the HEA Act though. From there a recognised producer group which sets export standards could flow, Franks believes, whether that be all honey or simply mānuka.

  • Any wider levy, beyond funding the HEA membership costs, gets more difficult. “Honey producers may not know, or care, that their honey is going for export when they sell at wholesale,” Franks pointed out.

  • If an HEA agreement can get across the line Franks believes “we can achieve a lot of the first objectives” of the Honey Strategy. However, a new “Honey Act” would be required, slotting in under the Commodities Levy Act, if the industry wanted to allow the whole of industry to collect a levy and control spend. “We assume there might be categories of membership”, such as packers, commercial beekeepers, and hobbyists, he forecast. “The Wine Act is a very good model that could be aimed at in the long-term.”

  • “Sometimes the industry has divergent interests,” Franks said. With beekeepers and honey packers, that could well be the case, and the lawyer offered some insight into how that might be planned for in an industry body structure. “You are best to acknowledge that, no matter how much you talk, you might disagree on what should happen … in that case, you need protocols that mean the government will listen to both parties.”

  • As for getting a levy across the line, Franks explained that the Minister would have to be satisfied there is broad agreement across the industry for the concept. That requires 60% by volume, and 60% by value buy-in and “the big players need to be involved”. 

Around 250 people attended the Summit Day hosted by ApiNZ and UMFHA.
  • NZ Trade and Enterprise employees Sophie Craig and Tim Fogarty spoke via video link, with some of London-based Craig’s insights into UK and EU markets illuminating. Playing into our favour is the ‘NZ Inc’ brand, market access (i.e. free trade agreements) and credible systems. The EU sees itself as a lead actor in the sustainability movement and wants products that will help meet their goals. “Shrinkage” (the UK term for retail theft) of mānuka is a major concern as stores are taking measures to prevent the theft, but this can leave empty shelves or barriers between consumer and product.

  • That shrinkage is due to mānuka honey’s huge premium, retailing for an average price of £47.19/kg, as compared to the wider honey category at £6.49. Craig explained it’s a great position, with more potential, “I don’t want NZ honey to lose its position, its credibility. There is opportunity and position to be won”.

  • Sarah Wilson, general manager advocacy for New Zealand Wine, briefly outlined wine’s history with industry representation, starting with the NZ Grape Growers Council in 1968 and progressing to the Wine Act 2003 that directs levy collection. She explained that their levy is calculated using both value (producers paying based off grape income at the vineyard gate) and volume (wineries paying per litre of wine). The board is made up of a mix of directors from growers to wineries, plus some board-appointed directors. They also have 15 regional associations. “New Zealand Wine can speak for the whole industry,” Wilson claimed.

Attendees to the Summit Day ‘chew the fat’ over lunch at the University of Waikato.
  • There are restrictions in what wine levy funds can be spent on, but research into the industry is clearly not one – with Wilson highlighting their state-of-the-art Bragato Research Institute in wine capital Marlborough.

  • Later on in discussions, Wilson contributed from the floor that separate organisations within the wine industry, between producers and exporters, “led to overlapping activity which wasn’t serving our industry well”.

  • Much of the financial backing of the mānuka honey trademark efforts have come from UMFHA to date, and chief executive Tony Wright said he envisages that will continue. The chief executive also stated that they are running an active campaign to prevent offshore attempts to trademark mānuka honey.

UMFHA chief executive Tony Wright confirmed their intention to continue funding New Zealand’s efforts to trademark mānuka honey.
  • Randy Oliver’s presentation was littered with his usual pieces of wisdom; “when you are talking about varroa management, you’re talking about vector management – keep viruses in mind all the time.”; “there is no such thing as varroa resistant queens, it’s their daughters, so you need to control the drone population.”; “selective breeding is the only long-term solution to varroa and tropilaelaps mites … it takes some work, but it is worth it.”; regarding mite washes, “once you know how to do them, they are very quick.”; “when you have changes in an industry, it’s an opportunity for some to start making money – it’s up to you what side you want to be on.”

  • Niha Long, national compliance manager for the AFB Agency announced a 0.56% incidence rate of AFB in 541,263 registered hives, held by 8592 beekeepers, in year 2023-24. That’s 3030 reported AFB cases. That compares to 3499 cases in the previous 12 months, with an almost identical incidence rate (0.55% in 2022-23).

  • Long reinforced that the Agency are not concerned with the presence of AFB within beekeeping operations, but they are concerned with what practises are being taken to manage, and ultimately eliminate, the disease.

  • The national compliance manager outlined five priorities for the Agency. 1. Maintenance and upgrades of the Hive Hub database; 2. Training commercial beekeepers to better manage AFB; 3. A ‘DECA review project’ where beekeepers who hold Disease Elimination Conformity Agreements with the Agency ensure they are up to date; 4. An improved communications strategy for telling the Agency’s story; 5. Effective resource management in the face of falling levy support as registered hive numbers decline. “Elimination of AFB is the job of the beekeeper, not the Agency,” Long reinforced.

  • Long could not offer any pathway to a beekeeper who questioned what recourse they might have to an Order to Destroy handed out by the Agency – a topic particularly pertinent following Springbank Honey’s recent claims – but reassured that the Agency was not in the habit of ordering large-scale destruction of equipment of those beekeepers who are compliant with earlier requests from the Agency.


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