Tuesday, 21 May 2019 10:30

Beekeepers struggle as honey money gets sticky

Written by  Pam Tipa
Apiculture NZ expects some rationalisation as the honey market downturn bites. Apiculture NZ expects some rationalisation as the honey market downturn bites.

The honey market downturn has impacted the profitability of many beekeeping businesses, particularly those producing the non-manuka honeys, says Karin Kos, chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand.

“We can expect to see some rationalisation over the next few years,” she told Rural News.

“This industry like any other primary sector industry does deal with ups and downs in pricing and weather.  Being part of the primary sector we understand things aren’t always even.”

But after an outstanding 10 years of increasing value for most NZ honey, the correction “has been a bit of a shock – absolutely”. 

But global demand for health and wellness products continues to grow and NZ is “absolutely perfectly positioned” to take advantage of that growth. “So there is optimism in there,” Kos says.

“One of the big things for us is we have work to do in how we can grow the value of all our NZ native and pastoral mono-flora honeys. 

“We have some fabulous honey, it is high quality, it is excellent on the international market, it is well regarded. As an industry we have work to do on how we can position that story and grow that value.”

She says the Apiculture NZ board has met to look at the opportunities and how they can be realised.

“It might be [one of the Government funds] on offer. We are just at the start of how we do that,” Kos told Rural News.

“The levy didn’t go through but there is a lot of support for work in that space. I have been around talking to members. I had a field day on Sunday in Canterbury. There is a lot of support for looking at how we build the value for those other honeys.

“I am sure the industry will be prepared to come together and look at how we could fund that.”

While the market has been challenging, honey export sales continued their rise with a 6% increase in 2017-18 to $348 million driven by higher export volumes and prices.

Kos says one interesting trend is export volumes to the United States have risen sharply, eclipsing China as our largest market. 

“That has been a very interesting trend. It is a huge market, there is huge opportunity but it is also relatively new particularly to the NZ manuka honey story,” she says.

“That is where we are starting to see some increased sales and retail presence there.”

Kos’ comments follow the release of the Ministry for Primary Industries 2018 Apiculture Monitoring Programme Report which shows the 2017-18 honey season was a mixed bag for beekeepers with honey volumes and hive yields up by 35% and 21% percent respectively over the 2016-17 season. But average honey prices were lower than the previous year for most honey types apart from monofloral manuka honey.

 “Unfortunately, we are continuing to see falling prices and sluggish sales over the 2018-19 year as we compete with global honeys that typically sell for lower rates than our beekeepers have received over the last four to five seasons,” says Kos.

While total registered hive numbers (up 11%) and registered beekeeping enterprises (up 9%) continued to increase over the 2017-18 year, Kos says it is unlikely this growth, particularly in the commercial sector, will continue given current market conditions.

“We can expect to see some rationalisation over the next year as beekeepers consider their options in this tough market.”

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