New Zealand Trip - September 2013

The South North Island Branch of the NBA (National Beekeepers’ Association) held their ‘BUZZ” weekend over 6-8th September. This is a residential weekend, run voluntarily by (mostly) commercial beekeepers, but aimed at hobbyist beekeepers, and is a basic beekeeping course. Above all, it is also a social weekend, with two nights of fun activities that enable everyone to mingle and get to know each other in a very informal way. 116 attended the weekend, and of those the first 70 claimed cabin space to sleep overnight at Camp Rangi, just N-E of Palmerston North. The Camp is set in an 800 acre reserve, with the Pohangina River flowing past just 50m away (in fact, there were floods sirens in the reserve in the event of flooding).

I was invited to attend as the ‘token Aussie’, to give our perspective on some biosecurity issues (EFB, SHB, Nosema and Viruses, plus to give some talks on other aspects of beekeeping. Before we left Wellington on Friday afternoon, I was exposed to a threat that Aussie beekeepers would not normally encounter – my hosts, Frank and Mary-Ann Lindsay, had to secure all their kitchen cupboard doors in case there was an earthquake while we were away!

Interested hobbyists being shown through hives by experienced beekeepers

Interested hobbyists being shown through hives by experienced beekeepers

The weekend is aimed at giving new and beginning beekeepers more confidence about working with bees and also more knowledge about what they are looking at in their hives. It also gives more ‘experienced’ hobbyists the opportunity to bring themselves up to speed on bee biology, disease identification, assembling equipment, becoming aware of the toxic properties of tutin honey, methods of and the reasons for requeening, hive set, hive locations and etiquette in choosing sites, hive nutrition and supplementary feeding, Varroa treatments (both chemical and alternative), Swarm control and management, propolis production and preparation for winter shutdown.

Some of the 120 beekeepers at the Buzz Weekend, checking hives. Smoke from a ‘fogger’ (used to treat hives with mineral oil against Varroa) can be seen in the background

Some of the 120 beekeepers at the Buzz Weekend, checking hives. Smoke from a ‘fogger’ (used to treat hives with mineral oil against Varroa) can be seen in the background

Winnie-the-Pooh picnic, with bee skep in the centre

Winnie-the-Pooh picnic, with bee skep in the centre

Along the way I hoped to glean an insight into some aspects of NZ beekeeping – particularly

  • The ongoing ‘bunfight’ over fraudulent Manuka honey being sold on the world market
  • The progress being made by the Kiwis in their fight against AFB, and the success of their AFB Management Plan
  • Their approach to marketing of honey and other hive products

Manuka honey– the Kiwis acknowledged the presence of at least 3 different methods of ‘marketing’ the activity of Manuka is leading to confusion on, not only the world market, but also the NZ domestic market. Even the Kiwis are getting confused! One promotes the ‘Manuka factor’, one the UMF rating, another the MGO content. On top of that, NZ is exporting honey with a rating, and that honey is being mixed with local overseas honey – this dilutes the Manuka honey, which affects the activity rating. The net effect is that more Manuka honey is being sold on the world market than is being produced in NZ and this is causing a severe loss of trust and backlash against the NZ image.

AFB– the Kiwis felt that their AFB Management Plan was succeeding. Overall there has been a noticeable general reduction in the occurrence and level of AFB – BUT (there is always a BUT) – there are still pockets where some beekeepers are not doing the right thing, and occasionally a severe outbreak occurs. Remembering that there is no nuclear industry in NZ, there are thus no irradiation plants, and burning of hives is still the only method of suppressing AFB. There is also a similar situation to Australia in that budget constraints mean the DPI will not investigate outbreaks without firm evidence and formal complaints being made.

Marketing of hive products– nothing much has changed in NZ in regard to marketing of honey. The Kiwis still do it well, honey is NOT blended and only varietal honeys are sold. The biggest growth area is in use and sale of propolis. Propolis mats are used to harvest the propolis, and these are provided free by Manuka Health under contract – even hobbyists can get free mats, as long as they sell the propolis to Manuka Health, who then do all the cleaning and processing of it. Prices are as high as $220/kg for PURE propolis, but in reality most of it is assessed as only being 35-45% pure. However, one beekeeper stated he had received $1800 for 22 kg of propolis ($82/kg) scraped from boxes at the end of the season. An average hive will collect 100g of propolis in 2-3 weeks, so the potential to make some serious  money is there.

Space prevents further exploration of the insights I gained, but 4 things worth throwing in are:-

  1. To meet an 18 year girl, Danielle Sinkinson, who was about to start and run 100 hives as a means of financing her way through University, was quite inspirational. Admittedly her father is a beekeeper, but it was her idea and motivation that is getting her project off the ground. She expected to cover her University fees and living/leisure costs with the income from the hives, and almost all the work would be done in her Uni holidays.

  2. The social activities at night included ‘table’ competitions with a

    1. Quiz night – on aspects of the bee and its life

    2. A second quiz night on recognition of a wide range of quality assurance equipment and paraphernalia

    3. A ‘Pooh Bear’ competition, constructing a ‘Winnie-the –Pooh’ scene of choice with Playdough.

Author: Des Cannon