Thursday, 21 February 2019 10:56

Beekeepers baulk at honey levy

Written by  Jane Lorimer, president of NZ Beekeeping Inc
Beekeeping in New Zealand has been successful and the industry has grown enormously. Beekeeping in New Zealand has been successful and the industry has grown enormously.

Jane Lorimer, president of NZ Beekeeping explains why she opposes the proposed commodity levy on honey.

Click here to read a response by beekeeper board members of ApiNZ supporting the levy.

I'm not a ‘naysayer’, rather I’m a committed beekeeper — a responsible business owner, active without pay in beekeeping organisations for many years. 

Beekeeping in New Zealand has been successful and has grown enormously. But with this growth has come serious problems and we now need shared solutions. 

I’d love to be able to get behind a well-thought-out funding proposal backed by a responsible organisation but I can’t support this levy. And I can’t support any more levy funds in the hands of Apiculture NZ as it now stands. 

That doesn’t make me a naysayer; it just makes me someone who wants the best for beekeeping and is prepared to get involved, to stand up and to say so. Let me explain. 

Firstly, what things are we trying to fix and how can they best be tackled? 

We have shared problems in biosecurity and bee health that need attention. Industry funding would help here if it is targeted and well managed. 

We also have the problem of falling prices for some honeys and over-stocking in some regions, but no amount of levy money can fix these problems. 

And we have a dysfunctional and under-resourced MPI. Levy money certainly won’t fix that but strong advocacy will help. 

My experience is that Apiculture NZ is a poor advocate. Giving them more money won’t make them better – just better paid.

This levy proposal doesn’t have the focus it should; instead it promises to spend our money on all sorts of distractions and it even strays into marketing. Why? 

Only the big operators will win from that; they can market themselves. The proposal can’t even make up its mind on biosecurity – included in the explanatory material and yet absent from the voting paper. 

Just as worrying has been the shifting story on how the levy will be administered. We don’t know what the administration costs will be or how spending decisions will be made. Don’t forget, beekeepers will still be paying the American Foul Brood (AFB) levy and might be asked to pay a GIA levy too. These questions matter, and the answers we’re getting don’t cut it.

Apiculture NZ’s record in managing the AFB programme and levy is a worrying sign that incompetence is embedded in the organisation; AFB incidence is rising. We all know how to manage AFB and it shouldn’t be hard for the management agency (i.e. Apiculture NZ) to get on top of it. Yet we end up with more plans and strategies, and proposals for even more levies. This is not an organisation we can trust with our money.

So what would we do? 

NZ Beekeeping represents a growing number of beekeepers and family businesses. We want to be able to work with everyone to clarify the industry’s problems and propose workable and affordable solutions. That might include levy funding for some projects, but we should always have solutions that fit the problem. Right now, we’re being asked to vote on an expensive solution looking for a problem. It’s just wrong.

Finally, the worst argument of all is that we should have this levy because every other primary sector has a levy. Beekeeping is unique with multiple products from the beehive. The commodity levy model does not fit. We have our own problems and we must work out our own solutions. 

Let’s put this ill-conceived levy aside and get started.

• Jane Lorimer is president of NZ Beekeeping Inc, which represents mainly small and mid-size — usually family — beekeeping businesses.

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