Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Honey strategy calls for stickier sector

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New approach centred on greater unity, particularly in dealing with biosecurity threats.
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A fragmented and underfunded honey sector is hoping a new strategy will give it greater unity and direction to ride a predicted lift in global demand for New Zealand mānuka honey.

The “Thriving Together” strategy for the industry was released this week, with an emphasis on mānuka honey playing a critical role in the sector’s future growth as more global consumers seek it out for its high quality and health benefits.

To that end it has set a goal of doubling NZ honey export value, enhancing consumer engagement with mānuka honey and NZ’s honey reputation by 2030. 

Total honey exports for 2022 totalled $538 million, of which $408m was mānuka. NZ was ranked as the top global honey exporter by a considerable margin in 2021.

But for it to fulfil its goal the plan outlines a need for a strong unified industry voice, backed by solid funding sources.

At present the industry is largely represented through Apiculture NZ, the Unique Mānuka Factor Honey Association (UMFHA), NZ Beekeepers and the Mānuka Charitable Trust, all of which are voluntary membership groups.

Five years ago, beekeepers overwhelmingly voted against having an industry-wide levy of 10c per kg of honey.

The new strategy calls for a well-constituted peak body with a strong mandate to deal with key issues in the sector. 

Apiculture NZ chair Nathan Guy said there is close agreement between his group, the Mānuka Charitable Trust and UMFHA. He said the government is well engaged with the three groups.

The varroa mite continues to have an eroding effect on hive health.

The strategy acknowledges funding has been a major problem for the sector, given the failure to get the levy over the line. It also cites a Horticulture Export Authority-type model proposed back in 2009 that could align the sector better. 

But without internal funds, raising public money is difficult, with only $1.8m awarded to the sector by the Ministry for Primary Industries in 2023, less than 1% of the $600m total awarded.

Protecting the trade name “mānuka” is a priority area demanding continued funding, with ongoing disputes between NZ and Australia on rights to the term.

Guy said he would be reluctant to push levy demands upon beekeepers right now given the tough times they are grappling with. But he cited biosecurity as a “ticking time bomb” for the sector that will demand both unity and funding to deal with.

The varroa mite continues to have an eroding effect on hive health, and Guy said the industry approach to dealing with it demands greater unity. 

Varroa is responsible for almost half 2022’s recorded hive losses, compared to only 1.1% of losses caused by American foul brood (AFL).

“AFL has been managed well through a pest management plan, and we need to have a similar plan in place for varroa,” Guy said.

“To walk into any co-funding, the industry needs to support some of it. Meantime we have the support through a Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures-type proposal to get things started.”

Ultimately, he believes the sector could demand its own legislation, similar to what wine and the organics sector have.

“That would mean we can put a lot of things in there around quality and biosecurity standards.

“We want to be recognised as a global leader with the highest quality honey, and the only credible source of mānuka honey.”

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