Honey business not sweet as for all beekeepers, despite surge in exports

There are concerns in the industry over lower demand for non-mānuka varieties of honey.
There are concerns in the industry over lower demand for non-mānuka varieties of honey. Photo credit: Getty

Despite honey exports surging last year, there are concerns in the industry over falling prices paid to beekeepers who produce non-mānuka varietes.

New Zealand honey exports were up considerably from February to June last year, reaching 57,000 tonnes and increasing 49 percent on the same period the year before, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries' latest Apiculture Monitoring Report.

The figures showed total honey exports in the year to June 30, 2020, were up 28 percent to 10,288, and export revenue up 20 percent to $425 million.

Apiculture New Zealand chief executive Karin Kos says the massive increase could be attributed to greater demand for Kiwi honey combined with a bumper harvest season.

"Around the world people are looking at health and their wellbeing and honey's a natural product so they are absolutely interested in purchasing our New Zealand honey, particularly mānuka  honey," Kos told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Tuesday.

She said favourable conditions saw a 17 percent increase in honey production across the country last season.

"Last year we had the biggest honey crop ever recorded,"she told host Dominic George.

"It wasn't just mānuka though, it was across the board."

Although conditions were good last year, with production also up in the two years before that, Kos said this year has also been tougher.

"Talking to beekeepers around the country, it's been a pretty poor season," Kos said.

"We've had that cold, wet start to the season - which generally starts in October - intermittent with hot spells and then cold spells, so short flowering seasons and the bees just don't like the cold weather. 

"It just hasn't certainly hasn't been as strong as last year. Overall I'd say the production's going to be a lot lower than what we got last year."

Mānuka accounted for 76 percent of our honey exports in the 2019/20 season, and 88 percent of export revenue. 

And while the booming exports bode well for producers of mānuka, Kos says things aren't looking so good for beekeepers producing non-mānuka varieties.

"If you look at this report in a little bit more detail, you're starting to see the average price paid to beekeepers, particularly in the non-mānuka honeys, has really fallen, by about 30-50  percent per kilogram, and that's a concern to us," she said.

"We need a sustainable beekeeping industry to support the agriculture and horticulture sectors, but also from a business perspective it's got to be worthwhile for beekeepers to do what they do." 

Kos said the drop in prices for non-mānuka honeys was due to a build-up of honey in storage from past years as well as a healthy supply on the international market.

The report described the high stocks of honey as a "significant issue for the industry".

"Whilst demand for monofloral mānuka honey has remained strong, demand for multifloral mānuka and non-mānuka honeys has declined," the report stated.

"With higher costs of production relative to honey producers in some other countries, New Zealand has struggled to compete in export markets, apart from in the niche monofloral mānuka honey category.

"Increasing honey stocks have forced some beekeepers to accept significantly lower prices than in previous years, particularly for non-mānuka honeys."

The average export price per kilogram of non-mānuka honey was $22.50. That compared to an average per kilogram price of $32.44 for multifloral mānuka honeys and $55.36 for mānuka.

Despite the issues for producers of non-mānuka honeys and the less-than-ideal season this year, Kos said she remained optimistic about the future.

"New Zealand honey is in demand internationally, it's a healthy product, international consumers want it and they're prepared to pay for it - particularly the mānuka honey."