Saturday, 08 September 2018 07:55

We are not cowboys, minister

Written by  Bruce Wills, chair of Apiculture NZ
Bruce Wills. Bruce Wills.

OPINION: Clearly the Minister of Agriculture believes the honey industry is in a bad state when he refers to it at the Agcarm conference (Rural News, August 21) as being the “wild west of the primary sector”. 

We want to assure him that is not so.

The honey industry has in recent years grown dramatically in volume and value and the international success of mānuka honey is much of the explanation. With growth comes growing pains and we have had a few.

The minister expressed concern about colony collapse disorder -- something that has only happened in the northern hemisphere to date, not here thankfully. It is a puzzling disorder that sees previously healthy bee colonies simply disappear without the cause fully known. 

The level of bee health in New Zealand is very good. The annual bee colony health survey, by the Ministry for Primary Industries, shows that over the last three years the total colony loss, due to all kinds of reasons, was about 10%.  This compares well with the average 30 - 40% losses in northern hemisphere countries.  

As we get bigger we become more vulnerable. We now have at least 8000 registered beekeepers and about 900,000 hives. Beekeepers now have very valuable assets and the whole industry is a huge asset for NZ. We wouldn’t want anything to jeopardise it.

We need robust science to track bee health and disease patterns and promote biosecurity practices, training for the staff of a growing industry and effective standards so the customer can be confident about our product.

We formed Apiculture NZ two years ago to address these types of issues. This brought together commercial and hobbyist beekeepers, marketers and packers under one industry-good organisation. A great deal has been achieved.  

We are now looking to take the next major step in the development of the industry – the introduction of a commodity levy similar to that collected in most primary sectors. A levy is a fair system whereby everyone in the industry shares the cost of the services the industry offers. It will help raise security as the industry adopts protection via science, systems, knowledge and practice.

The minister is correct in reminding the industry of the need to protect ourselves. The days of “every operator for himself are over”. There’s too much at stake. We can’t allow ourselves to think that should anything happen someone else will look after us. We need to look after ourselves collectively. 

Honey is a product of the future. Table honey consumption is growing and increasingly it is used in nutraceuticals because of its natural credentials. The role of bees in the pollination of other important crops means the honey industry is vital to NZ.

We have strong role model industries to learn from; all have set up levies in the last 20 years. These industries are now more in charge of themselves and able to set their own priorities and achieve them with their own resources.

Energy and optimism are obvious in the bee industry, as in any growing and thriving industry. Despite issues and conflicts, it’s mostly positive and progressive -- sometimes exciting. 

• Bruce Wills is chair of Apiculture NZ, the national body representing all sectors of the industry.

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