Tasmania is the only place we have been to in Australia where honey is marketed in the same way as it is in New Zealand. WA comes close, but still has a major packer who absorbs the bulk of commercial production. In New Zealand and Tasmania, every beekeeper is also a producer/packer, and they all market their honey with flair.
Tasmania thrives on tourism. Tourists means tourist shops – boutique shops where honey is sold at higher prices than on the ‘big island’. Everyone knows that ‘it’s all about the water’ when it comes to Boag’s Beer. The same underlying philosophy stands behind everything marketed in Tasmania – honey, cheese, chocolate, whatever. So beekeepers (deservedly) reap a better reward for their efforts.
While touring Tasmania in April, our main focus was on the scenery and the bushwalking, but we did gain some glimpses into beekeeping in Tasmania, as the photos below show. These photos are only indicative of the panache with which Taswegians present their wares, and such shops abound in the island, but also cover some aspects of beekeeping in Tasmania.
Tasmania is the only State where beekeepers have unlimited access to World Heritage Areas (in the state's north-west and west coast), and some 90 per cent of Tasmania's iconic leatherwood honey is produced in those regions. But many areas are inaccessible or existing roads are not maintained because of the downturn in the forestry industry.
The leatherwood tree is the only secure and reliable long-term source of nectar in Tasmania for beekeepers. If the Leatherwood crop fails, Tasmanian beekeepers have a lean season (we were told that this year has not been flash, with production about 50-60% of average).This reliance on Leatherwood means that beekeepers spend the Spring preparing their colonies for the leatherwood harvest, as there is little other flora that is reliable or produces commercial quantities of honey. Even the climate is not conducive to the production of other honey crops, with a delayed start to warmer weather in Spring and a cooler autumn that means an early shutdown for winter.
That aside, it was put to us that Tasmania is the only State in Australia where, because of the reliability of the leatherwood, beekeeping is truly migratory. The leatherwood basically starts on the 1st January, and is over by the middle of March.
All is not, however, rosy, as the beekeepers not only have to contend with access problems, but also with competition from the forestry industry, and thus the reliance on wilderness and national park areas. Indeed, the May newsletter of the Tasmanian Beekeepers’ Association contained a lengthy discussion of how Forestry Tasmania has misled the public and members of parliament with unsubstantiated and erroneous statements in their Management Plan about under-utilisation of leatherwood by Tasmanian beekeepers. Forestry Tasmania have admitted to the errors in those statements, acknowledged the statementsa were based upon unreliable information, and apologised for any harm done to the industry.
Given the reliance of mainland beekeepers on public lands (70% of our honey is produced from Eucalypts, and much of that is on public lands), we could only look with envy at a State where the public acceptance of beekeeping as an integral part of agriculture means that beekeepers are able to freely access not only National Parks, but also Wilderness and World Heritage Areas. If only the National Park authorities on the mainland could be so enlightened!
Also of interest was the lookout over the Forth Valley, where a number of interpretation boards emphasised the production of a major proportion of Australia’s vegetables, especially carrots and onions. The seed for both crops is grown in Tasmania itself, and beehives are widely used to effect pollination of both crops for seed production.
Author: Des and Jenan Cannon