'Falling prices and sluggish sales': Challenging times for New Zealand beekeepers

Competition from overseas honey has meant a tough season for the New Zealand beekeeper, driving prices down and leaving some considering getting out of the industry.

This year's Ministry for Primary Industries 2018 Apiculture Monitoring Programme Report shows the 2017/18 season was a mixed bag.

While honey volumes and hive yields were up by 35 percent and 21 percent respectively over the 2016/17 season, average honey prices were lower than the previous year for most honey types apart from monofloral mānuka honey.

Chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand, Karin Kos said the softening in prices seen in the 2017/18 year have come after more than 10 years of increasing value for the majority of all New Zealand honeys on the international market.

"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," she said.

The report said there is a growing interested in the United States in New Zealand mānuka honey.
The report said there is a growing interested in the United States in New Zealand mānuka honey. Photo credit: istock

"The market downturn has had a significant impact on the profitability of many beekeeping businesses as a result."

While total registered hive numbers (up 11 percent) and registered beekeeping enterprises (up 9 percent) continued to increase over the 2017/18 year, she said it was unlikely this growth, particularly in the commercial sector, would 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."

On the upside, the report highlighted the increased demand for pollination services with the expansion in several horticulture sectors including kiwifruit, apples, avocados, stonefruit and blueberries.

"The growth of pollination services is good news for our industry, as it does provide another source of income for beekeepers."

While the market has been challenging, honey export sales continued to rise with a six percent increase in 2017/18 to $348 million, driven by both higher export volumes and prices, with export volumes to the United States of America rising sharply to eclipse China as the largest market.

"There has been an increasing interest in the United States as a relatively new and growing market, particularly for New Zealand mānuka honey, and this is reflected in the increased sales and retail presence there."

Kos noted that while current conditions were tough for many beekeepers, global demand for natural health and wellness products continues to grow and New Zealand honeys are well positioned to take advantage of that growth.

"As an industry we have work to do in how we can grow the value of all our New Zealand native and pastoral monofloral honeys and bee products, and that is a priority for our members."