Rising costs, increasing numbers, and high demand
Issues facing New Zealand beekeepers
We’ve all read news articles about the declining bee numbers, dangerous pest species, and other threats to the honey industry. But beekeeping in New Zealand isn’t all doom and gloom. While the industry is dealing with some ongoing problems – like production costs, competition for space, and yes, pests – there are also positive changes afoot. Honey prices are high, international demand for New Zealand honey is increasing, and producers are offering a wider range of honey-related products.
Here’s a brief rundown of the issues facing beekeepers at the moment:
High honey prices
According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, honey prices are higher than ever. This is particularly true for exports – the strong demand for New Zealand honey overseas has driven prices up. While manuka honey commands a much higher price than other types, New Zealand honey in general is becoming an in-demand product that consumers are prepared to pay more for.
While this is a positive for New Zealand honey producers, high demand has led to honey prices in New Zealand soaring, which is less positive for consumers here.
Unfortunately for producers, the high price of honey is offset by increasing production costs. Sugar prices are rising, renting or buying space for hives is expensive – particularly in some parts of the country, and labour costs are rising.
According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, many beekeepers are also reporting increased spending as they implement new workplace health and safety standards. The associated costs can include hiring health and safety consultants, writing new management plans and protocols, new machinery and vehicles, and smaller, lighter equipment. These costs can add up – particularly for smaller-scale producers.
Diverse honey products
As all beekeepers know, honey isn’t the only product made by bees. As the market for bee products grows, honey producers have moved into other areas, producing and selling products such as pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and beeswax.
Some beekeepers are also expanding into other bee-related services – including pollination services, supplying live bees, and managing swarms.
This diversification means that there are more opportunities for smaller producers, who may be able to specialise in a niche product or service, rather than competing in the traditional honey market.
Pests and disease
Beehives have always been vulnerable to invasion and disease. In New Zealand, Varroa mites and American Foulbrood Disease are probably the best known and most feared by beekeepers.
One possible new threat to the honey industry is the Giant Willow Aphid. This insect is now found in most parts of New Zealand. When bees harvest the honeydew secreted by the aphids, the resulting honey hardens in the frame and becomes very difficult for the beekeeper to extract. This obviously causes problems in honey production. Because the aphids create so much honeydew, they also act as a significant food source for wasps, giving them the resources to create larger nests and survive the winter. This is also not ideal for bee survival.
Competing for space and pollen
Beekeeping – both commercial and small-scale – is on the rise in New Zealand. There are 29 large-scale commercial honey producers in the country, managing a third of all registered hives between them. Some of these ‘mega-commercial’ enterprises have over 25,000 hives. When you add smaller-scale producers and hobbyists, the numbers are significant – 880,000 hives, to be exact.
This is a positive for the honey industry, but it can make it difficult for individual beekeepers. There is a natural limit to how many hives any one area can sustain, and some parts of the country are already oversaturated. This means prospective beekeepers may need to find new areas to expand into.
The beekeeping industry can be affected by everything from consumer demand to weather patterns, labour costs to invasive insects, international trends to local legislation. This means beekeepers, large and small, need to be flexible and agile, staying on top of upcoming issues, working together to look for solutions, and finding new ways to profit from honey.