Major breakthrough for Mānuka farming initiative

A ground-breaking milestone could see more New Zealand farmers producing high-grade mānuka honey worth millions to the economy.

Scientifically-bred mānuka cultivars planted on a 130 hectare trial site at Tūtira, Hawke's Bay, between 2011 and 2013 have produced their first crop of mānuka honey, with an average Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF®) value of 7.  

One sample reached medical grade by exceeding UMF® 10.

The Tutira trial site is part of High Performance Mānuka Plantations, a Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme jointly funded between Mānuka Research Partnership (NZ) Limited (MRPL) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

"We believe the Tūtira site's results using scientifically bred mānuka cultivars will be of considerable commercial interest to farmers and other owners of large parcels of land across New Zealand," said Mānuka Farming New Zealand Chief Executive Stephen Lee.

"From starting out in 2011, our aim was to trial mānuka cultivars at different sites and environments across the country, to see how they grew and if they'd produce medical grade mānuka honey," he said

The mānuka honey harvest was completed in December 2017 just at the end of the mānuka flowering season and achieved a yield of 10.1 kg per hive with an average UMF® value of 7.  

Mr Lee said this honey met the Ministry for Primary Industries' scientific definition for monofloral mānuka honey, and the result was very encouraging.  

Massey University research technician Maggie Olsen has been monitoring and managing the performance of the Tūtira site.
Massey University research technician Maggie Olsen has been monitoring and managing the performance of the Tūtira site. Photo credit: Supplied

"For the first year of production on this site, it is already producing high grade mānuka honey."

One sample reached medical grade straight from the hive (minimum UMF® value of 10), while the others have the potential to achieve at least UMF® 10 during storage.

"A second honey harvest was taken a few months after the mānuka finished flowering  this was a multifloral honey," said Mr Lee.

The combined value of the two honey harvests generated approximately $325 per hectare in gross income shared by the landowner and beekeeper. 

"The gross income from honey will increase with higher honey yields and quality as the mānuka plantation grows to full maturity."

Massey University research technician Maggie Olsen has been monitoring and managing the performance of the Tūtira site.  

She said the Tūtira results prove that the concept of farming mānuka for high-grade honey works when the right cultivars are selected for the site and the site is well managed. 

She said it's also important to have both good apiary practices in place and good collaboration amongst landowners, plantations managers and beekeepers to enhance the performance of sites.

"It's a proof of concept - we all knew it should work, but this is where it has all come together," she said. "We're really stoked with the results."

Trial sites in Whanganui, Taranaki, Manawatu, Bay of Plenty and Southland have been part of the evaluation and monitoring programme. 

Over the last three years 2.3 million high grade mānuka seedlings from Mānuka Farming New Zealand Ltd. have been established on commercial plantations covering over 2000 hectares of properties from Northland to Marlborough, and from Taranaki to the East Coast. 

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