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  • Writer's picturePatrick Dawkins

Summit Discussions Delve Deeper into Levy Plans

With around 250 attendees from various corners of apiculture, the Industry Summit Day 2024 at University of Waikato on June 18 served as a platform for further explanation of the strategy proposed to move the honey industry forward with a new industry body, and mānuka honey levy. A panel discussion, with questions from the floor, allowed some of the proposals to be further fleshed out.

It was made clear to those from around the beekeeping industry who gathered at the university’s The Pā building that there are headwinds not just in the present, but also the future of the New Zealand honey industry, which organisers believe only a greater level of financial support can alleviate.

The panel of industry personal at the Industry Summit Day 2024 at Waikato University on June 18 answer questions pertaining to the Honey Industry Strategy. From left, Kristen Kohere-Soutar, Jane Lorimer, Sean Goodwin, James Jeffery, Jackie Evans, Mike Weight, Tony Wright and Karin Kos.

At the institute where mānuka honey’s unique properties were first quantified 40 years ago, industry-good body Apiculture New Zealand (ApiNZ), along with mānuka honey export group Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA) and those tasked with protecting the use of the term Mānuka Honey for New Zealand use only, the Mānuka Charitable Trust, gave greater detail to the vision of the Honey Industry Strategy 2024-30 which was released in February. It provided an opportunity for industry leaders and strategy authors to speak to their thinking, and questions from the floor to be discussed. 

In years gone by, National Beekeepers’ Association meetings were renowned for an open floor on which beekeeper voices could be heard, with bolshy discourse often ensuing. In 2024, Industry Summit organisers took a more controlled approach to discussion of the Strategy with attendees asked to submit questions via event app Slido, or a physical dropbox. A selection of questions was then presented to a panel of eight industry stakeholders, at least six of who were directly associated with authorship of the strategy document, while a few questions came directly from the floor.

New Zealand Beekeeping Inc president and Waikato beekeeper Jane Lorimer was the lone panel representative from outside the document authors – and one of just two beekeepers on the panel – and challenged its legitimacy. She said the strategy has too much of a mānuka honey focus and overlooks the value of pollination to the sector.

ApiNZ chief executive Karin Kos replied by stating “ultimately everyone needs to benefit, but there isn’t a quick fix. We are tying to set a strategy for where we need to get to”.

A theme of the discussion was the need for the two major sectors of the honey industry – production and packers/marketers – to find common ground on the issues that need addressing, and thus funding.

“Are we prepared to look at a model that says ‘we packers need you beekeepers, and we beekeepers need you packers’?” asked Kristen Kohere-Soutar, from the position as executive chair of MCT’s operating arm Te Pitau Ltd.

“It’s not rocket science. We should be able to do that ourselves.”

Mike Weight, general manager of mānuka honey exporter Wedderspoon, stated “it is important the (potential levy) money is spent on an agreed strategy,” before putting a stake in the ground regarding exporter opinion.

“All the exporters I have spoken to understand there is a producer requirement,” he said.

Representing both fellow mānuka honey export giant Comvita, as chief science officer, and UMFHA, as a director, Dr Jackie Evans reinforced Weight’s viewpoint, saying “ensuring the export levy is spent on the beekeeping side is essential”.

James Jeffery joined Lorimer as the only other beekeeper on the panel, as co-owner of nearby Summer Glow Apiaries while also wearing a UMFHA directors’ hat. “The producer needs to trust the exporter that, when they do well, the beekeeper will also do well,” he said.

Lorimer, speaking from the position of that producer, added “how we feed our priorities into things is essential”. The question of what safeguards beekeepers would have on what levy money is spent on, especially if exporters were to pay it, also came from the audience.

“A lot, basically,” was Weight’s answer.

“It is really important the beekeepers are there, functioning, and doing the best work to produce the best honey possible, allowing us to sell the best honey possible. The revenue might have been gained from the exporters, but it should be spent across the industry to an agreed strategy, agreed by all the players in the industry.”

UMFHA chief executive Tony Wright has been instrumental in the Strategy to date and heads up an industry group that already collects millions of dollars annually from mānuka honey exporters. He weighed in on the levy balancing act.

“Whoever is paying the levy gets a say in how the levy is spent. If it is an export levy, it is reasonable that exporters will want to prioritise how it will be spent. All the exporters I have talked to have understood there is an industry good that goes beyond things like marketing plans and legal protection and all the rest of it. They all get it … No exporter I have spoken to has been unreasonable about seeing the value of investing back into the supply chain with things like bee health advice, training and all that sort of stuff,” Wright said.


The UMFHA chief executive did put a cap on how far spend from an export-gained levy might extend though, saying “what is it beekeepers specifically want? If there is a will from beekeepers to have a collective programme to address things which are a priority to them, then it is probably reasonable that they pay a levy as well”.

Representation of the different sectors of apiculture in an industry body is likely to be a key talking point going forward. ApiNZ chief executive Karin Kos said “we are thinking about a board, potentially a large board, that would have beekeeper representation”.

The panel fronts an audience of about 250 from around the apiculture industry inside University of Waikato’s The Pā building.

ApiNZ was formed in 2016 and Kos has been the group’s chief executive since inception. Regarding regional representation she admitted, “we tried that and we haven’t done a good job of it”. Looking forward to a new industry body she added, “if there is a better way where we could get that regional involvement into the board and the governance, then I’m all for it”.

As for funding any model, Wright explained that inserting honey into the group of products which fall under the Horticulture Export Authority (HEA) would be step one, but a wider levy would need to go through parliament.

“We would want to make an amendment to the Commodities Levy Act, because that is the mechanism we would use to get the real quantity of money we are talking about to fund what we are interested in,” Wright explained.

“We need to make amendment to the HEA Act to recognise honey as a product group and we also need to make an amendment to the Commodities Levy Act because that is the mechanism that will raise funds via exporters.”

Closing the panel discussion, Kos reinforced the need to move forward the current Strategy document, and not go back to the drawing board.

“We’ve got a strategy, we’ve got a start, let’s not muck it up.”

If NZBI are to buy into that thinking, they are going to want closer involvement moving forward.

“Despite what side of the coin we are looking at, we all need to work together. Exporters need producers, while producers need packers and exporters. It is how we interact with each other, how we feed what our priorities are as beekeepers back in to what is happening, that is the key. The really important thing is getting around the table, discussing where we need to be, and ensuring that the whole industry is brought along, not just the exporters,” Lorimer said, adding, “we all need to be brought along so we understand where we are heading.”


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