10  Apiculture

This section comments on a range of beekeeping activities and products throughout New Zealand.

Key points

Climatic factors affecting production

Some beekeepers say the beekeeping season starts in winter as this period determines how many hives survive into the spring and in what condition. The past winter was one of the warmest and driest on record. Above-average temperatures were recorded throughout much of the South Island and the north and west of the North Island, and near-average temperatures elsewhere. Sunshine hours were well above average for most of the country as well. These conditions were excellent for the over-wintering of beehives and early spring build-up.

During spring, above-average temperatures and sun hours were experienced in the west, with above-average rainfall in the east and parts of the Waikato, Wanganui and Manawatu. This was good news for many beekeepers as strong hives were split to make up for winter losses and to increase hive numbers. However, swarming was a problem in many areas with the very populous hives. Hives that swarm seldom produce a surplus honey crop. Access to apiaries was easier, especially pollination sites. Good crops of honey were obtained from early nectar sources such as rewarewa and manuka in some locations. Snow fell to low levels in Canterbury in late September followed by heavy frosts that damaged a lot of pasture nectar sources.

Unfortunately the weather deteriorated in December and January, and the bumper honey crop beekeepers were expecting after an excellent spring did not eventuate. Summer rainfall was very high in parts of the Bay of Plenty, Hauraki Plains, Coromandel, and Rotorua-Taupo regions, with floods in many places. Wanganui, the Waikato, South Taranaki, Nelson, North Otago and Southland also had above-average rainfall. Meanwhile, parts of Central Otago, South Canterbury, the Kaikoura coast, Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay, North Taranaki and parts of Auckland experienced below-average rainfall with some high temperatures.

Honey production figures

The nectar flow stalled after Christmas, following the good flow in late spring and early summer from many bush sources. The honey that was produced in early 2006 came in over a two-month period, as a rather long, protracted flow. Despite this, average to above-average crops were reported from the North Island and below-average crops in the South Island with the exception of Canterbury.

Some exceptionally good yields were recorded in Northland, the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Taranaki and Canterbury. Yields in these areas ranged from 36 to 95 kilograms per hive with district averages of 36 to 42 kilograms per hive. The national average was 34.7 kilograms per hive. The New Zealand honey crop was calculated at 10 423 tonnes, up 734 tonnes from the 2004/05 season of 9689 tonnes (see Table 2). The six-year average is 9180 tonnes with a range from 4682 tonnes (2002) to 12 252 tonnes (2003). Regional honey production data for the past six years are summarised in Table 10.1.

Table 10.1: New Zealand honey crop

Northland, Auckland, Hauraki Plains 869 593 1 066 1 047 1 221 1 337 1 022
Waikato, King Country, Taupo 672 708 2 210 1 164 1 095 1 124 1 162
Bay of Plenty, Coromandel, Poverty Bay 794 319 2 064 2 052 1 498 1 937 1 444
Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, Manawatu, Wairarapa 1 735 750 1 607 1 330 1 440 1935 1466
Marlborough, Nelson, Westland 606 300 1 350 550 800 690 716
Canterbury 2 743 921 2 400 1 500 1 500 2100 1861
Otago, Southland 1 725 1 091 1 555 1 245 2 135 1300 1509
New Zealand 9 144 4 682 12 252 8 888 9 689 10 423 9180
Yield/hive (kg) 29.4 15.0 40.8 30.2 33.1 34.7 31.5

AgriQuality New Zealand.


Excellent winter and early spring weather meant many hives maintained brood throughout the winter and started heavy brood rearing earlier than usual. This resulted in strong colonies early in the season, but also meant more hives starved where beekeepers were not closely monitoring the feed situation. Many strong hives were split and requeened to make up winter losses and to help prevent swarming. Despite these precautions, beekeepers reported the spring of 2005 as a bad one for swarming. Many hives were also too strong for Haywood kiwifruit pollination and required extra management to reduce colony populations and create enough room for colony expansion during the time the hives were in the orchards.

Pollination fees for kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty area increased again to $140 per hive from an average of $135 last season, with a top price of $185 being reported. These prices included delivery into the orchard and sugar for three one-litre feeds to stimulate the bees to collect pollen. Feeding the bees was extra and often done by the orchardists. Pollination brokers paid beekeepers $102 to $104 per hive, delivered into depot apiaries in the Bay of Plenty, with the brokers placing the hives into orchards and feeding them sugar syrup. This was up about $1 per hive on last season, but beekeepers requested hives be fed three to six litres at a time rather than the one-litre feeds provided in previous years. The extra syrup was deemed necessary to keep the bees alive as well as stimulate pollen collection. While many hives benefited from the extra sugar syrup, other hives gathered rewarewa nectar and were very heavy to shift out of the orchards.

Increases in demand for pollination hives for avocados and the gold kiwifruit variety (which flowers at the same time as avocados), could see a shortfall in hives for next season, which begins in October 2006.

The price for pollination hives is expected to increase again next year by an average of $5 per hive to offset increased costs for labour, fuel and sugar. Some beekeepers are talking about increasing prices to $200 per hive. However, if honey prices don't recover and honey stocks remain unsold, then more beekeepers may commit to pollination, which could increase competition and help keep pollination prices stable.

The Sustainable Farming Fund, administered by MAF Policy, funded a project to look at the strategic issues facing beekeepers and the horticulture and arable sectors, which rely on honey bees for pollination. Demand for pollination hives is projected to outstrip supply in five to ten years. There are a number of reasons for this and a group of people from key sectors met in May 2006 to discuss the issues and potential remedies.

Live bee movements and exports

The demand from Canada for package bees reached a peak in 2003/04, with the orders for the last two years being well down. For the exporting season, which is generally February to May, 8988 packages of bees weighing 1 kilogram each, and 10 173 individual queen bees were exported. In comparison, 15 711 packages were exported in 2005, 27 729 in 2004 and 25 121 in 2003.

Financial position



Bulk honey prices paid to New Zealand beekeepers are determined to a large extent by the ability to export any honey that is surplus to local market requirements. Approximately 3000 to 3500 tonnes must be exported each year to maintain local market stability.

New Zealand producers continued to be affected by decreasing world bulk honey prices. The US introduced anti-dumping tariffs of 3 to 5 percent on Chinese and Argentinean honey, but this prompted some unscrupulous practices, which only distorted the market further. Importers of Chinese honey in particular were required to guarantee to pay the tariffs by way of a promissory bond. After incurring liabilities of US$8.5 million and US$18 million respectively, two Chinese importers declared bankruptcy and "disappeared" only to emerge after a time as different companies. The United States authorities are currently legislating to plug this loophole by requiring the tariffs to be paid in advance. In order to import honey and meet the anti-dumping duties, honey was purchased and sold very cheaply. In addition there was a large increase in world supplies as a result of previous high prices, and this depressed prices paid to producers even more.

Commodity prices for bulk honey lifted late in the year, mainly as a result of currency fluctuations. One exporter expects to pay $350,000 as a bonus to his suppliers as a result of favourable currency movements.

New Zealand beekeepers are very concerned about the likely importation of "cheap" Australian honey. Along with reducing prices, this could potentially introduce an exotic bee disease called European foulbrood and/or a drug-resistant strain of the endemic bee disease American foulbrood. Controlling European foulbrood disease, if it became endemic in New Zealand, would significantly add to beekeeper costs, which are already under pressure.

Unlike last season, there was a very good crop of rewarewa honey this year. However, bulk (free in store) prices reduced from last year's $4.50 to $4.75 per kilogram to $3.50 to $3.90 per kilogram2. White clover-type honeys were in reasonable supply with some carryover stocks from last year. However, markets in Europe were limited because of competition, especially from China, India and Argentina. Early sales of clover were made at $4.10 per kilogram with the producer supplying the drums and often loading the container at their own premises. Later offerings softened to between $3.50 and $3.40 per kilogram, with some exporters offering as low as $2.85 per kilogram (drums and freight supplied). Some spot prices of $4.50 per kilogram were realised earlier in the year.

Thyme honey realised around $5.30 to $6.40 per kilogram, kamahi $3.25 per kilogram, blue borage $4.25 per kilogram, and rata around $4.20 per kilogram. Honeydew increased from last season's low of $2.60 per kilogram to between $2.90 and $3.30 per kilogram. Most of this movement was due to the weakening New Zealand dollar.

The one bright light on the international honey market is the increase in sales of certified organic honeys. Most of the organic producers are in the South Island. North Island producers have found it too difficult to maintain their organic registration using only organic products for varroa control. Prices paid for organic honeys were generally $1.20 to $1.50 per kilogram over non-organic honeys. The demand for organic honey, especially in Germany, is growing and importers are selling the honey labeled as product of New Zealand. This is a positive trend, improving the sustainability of the market for New Zealand honey, and reducing competitive pressure from other exporting countries.

The bulk price for "non-active" manuka honey remained static at $5.00 to $7.25 per kilogram, although one exporter in the South Island was paying $8.30 per kilogram provided manuka pollen content was at least 70 percent of total pollen, with a high total pollen count. Manuka with the "unique manuka factor" (UMF) ranged in price from $0.90c per point of activity to $1.25 per point. Bioassays are done to determine the non-hydrogen peroxide activity or UMF, which is expressed as points of activity. Points of activity payments usually begin when the honey scores over ten points. Thus, honeys with an activity of 15 would be worth $13.50 per kilogram at $0.90c per point and up to $18.75 per kilogram at $1.25 per point.

Buyer and consumer resistance caused comb honey sales to remain moderate in the main markets of Germany and the United Kingdom. Prices paid ranged from $55 to $58 per dozen pieces. Returns were better in Japan, with sales at $70 per dozen being reported. However the Japanese market predominantly wants white honeys only, whereas Germany takes a greater range of colour and flavour types, which can result in a better average return to the producer.

Queen bees

Queen bees were in great demand and most sold for $20 to $24 each on the local market, with a high of $27. This is up slightly on last year. South Island beekeepers are becoming concerned that their stock is regressing in temperament because no breeding queens have been allowed into the South Island from the North Island since varroa arrived in March 2000. One queen breeder has imported semen from the North Island and started a bee stock improvement programme.

Breeding stock from the new strain of Carniolan bees from Austria and Germany was released onto the New Zealand market in 2004. The bee breeder who imported the semen is developing the breed in New Zealand using artificial insemination. Select tested breeder queens sold for $500 to $1,000 per queen bee. The Carniolan strain is preferred by many Canadian beekeepers as it has superior over-wintering abilities to the Italian strain. Some North Island beekeepers are reporting that the Carniolan-Italian cross can be very aggressive and concerns were expressed that this bee should not be used in intensive pollination areas like the Bay of Plenty.

Bulk bees

Bulk bees are exported as "package bees", which are cardboard and wire mesh units that contain between one and one and a half kilograms of bees, a queen bee and a food source. Payment remained the same as last year with exporters paying $20 per kilogram delivered for bulk bees and $20 per queen bee. However, the demand from Canada was much reduced from last season owing to depressed world honey prices and unsold honey stocks from the previous season. Exports to Canada comprised of 8988 packages plus 9573 queen bees, compared with 15 711 packages and 2554 queen bees in 2005. Canadian importers took more queen bees this year especially the Carniolan strain.

Although the US market for queen bees and package bees was finally opened to New Zealand stock in 2005, compliance and pre-export inspection requirements made this market very difficult to exploit and only a few queen bees were sent. Australian exporters, however, sent many thousands of packages to the US for almond pollination. New Zealand exporters are looking closely at this market given the downturn in Canada for package bees, and are negotiating with Biosecurity New Zealand regarding export requirements.


Propolis is a gum or resin that is exuded by trees and shrubs and collected by bees. It is antibiotic and is made into many therapeutic products after extraction and refining. The price paid for raw propolis remained static at $150 to $175 per kilogram for pure product, with little interest from buyers. Beekeepers received approximately $60-$80 per kilogram of raw product as collected from the hives or scraped off bee frames and boxes. Propolis collected by the beekeeper is usually mixed with beeswax, which reduces its value. Buyers adopted a more stringent testing protocol this year, which saw average purity ratings reduced. Some producers who regularly achieved 44 to 57 percent purity tests in previous years reported lower ratings of 40 to 47 percent for the current season, with no apparent change in beekeeper practices. Large stocks on hand, imports, and slow export markets reduced demand. Producers are hoping the weakening New Zealand exchange rate will increase sales and buyer interest.


Most of the wax produced in New Zealand is used to produce sheets of beeswax foundation, which goes into new frames or is used to coat plastic frames. Quantities of beeswax are also made into candles and cosmetics. Prices paid to beekeepers for light cappings wax increased from $5.00 to $5.40 per kilogram (including freight) last year to $6.00 to $6.60 per kilogram this year, with spot prices of $7.20 per kilogram. Prices for darker wax from old brood combs increased slightly to between $4.50 and $5.00 per kilogram. Demand for organic beeswax increased dramatically with prices of $8.50 to $11.50 per kilogram being offered.

Honey powder

The honey powder market had been building up with exports averaging 20 tonnes per month to Asian countries. However, sales decreased dramatically in 2005/06 due to low international honey prices and competition from other manufacturers overseas. Honey powder is used in the manufacturing industry wherever a honey flavour or content is required. This market may recover with the reduction in the New Zealand exchange rate, and cheaper bulk prices being paid to New Zealand beekeepers.

The returns for apicultural products and services is summarised in Table 10.2.

Table 10.2: Returns to apiculture products

Product 2004/05
Expected price
Bulk honey1  - colour grade ($/kg FOB)2
Light (clover type) 3.50-5.00 2.85-4.50
Light amber 3.50-4.75 3.50-4.00
Dark 3.20-4.75 3.00-4.00
Manuka3 6.00-6.90 5.00-7.25
Beeswax ($/kg FOB)
Light 5.40 6.00-6.60
Dark 4.50 4.50-5.00
Pollen ($/kg FOB):
Not dried or cleaned 13.00 14.00-16.00
Cleaned and dried 20.00-37.00 20.00-37.00
Pollination ($/hive)
Pipfruit, stonefruit and berryfruit 55.00-60.00 60.00-72.50
- Hawkes Bay 80.00-110.00 110.00-115.00
- Taranaki 80.00-90.00 80.00-95.00
- Auckland 85.00-185.00 90.00-185.00
- Bay of Plenty4 101.00-165.00 102.00-170.00

Agriculture New Zealand Ltd.
1 Beekeepers supply drums or containers.
2 FOB "free-on-board" - purchaser pays freight and probably insurance.
3 Non-active manuka honey.
4 Prices at the lower end of the range are for hives delivered to depot sites.


Beekeepers faced one of their worst years for increased costs in 2005/06. Rising commodity prices and a falling New Zealand exchange rate compounded the problem. Truck running is a major cost for beekeepers and diesel has risen around 60 percent since May 2005. Other cost increases include sugar (25 percent), varroa treatment (15 percent), packaging, and wages.

The new requirement for secondary processors of bee products (including beekeepers who extract honey) to have an approved risk management plan (RMP) in order to be eligible for an export certificate will also affect costs. Annual compliance costs for RMPs are expected to be between $1,000 and $2,000, compared with $250 to $400 for certificates of registration issued by local health authorities. Many honey facilities will need significant expenditure to bring them up to the standards required by the RMPs.

The National Beekeepers' Association (NBA) continued to administer the compulsory apiary levy to fund its American foulbrood pest management strategy (PMS) under the Biosecurity Act. The fee remained unchanged at a base fee of $20 plus $8 per apiary. In the South Island another levy of $2 per hive, with a minimum charge of $10 (plus GST), was implemented for the first time in April 2005 to fund the South Island varroa PMS. This levy was reduced to $1.38 per hive for the 2006/07 year, with a minimum fee of $6.90 plus GST for those with five or fewer hives.

Net result

The net results for 2005/06 are summarised in Table 10.3. Beekeeping involves many different operations such as bulk honey, retail packed honey, pollination services, other bee products such as propolis, pollen and live bees, and various combinations of these. There is also a great variation in prices paid for bulk honeys ranging from $2.50 per kilogram for industrial-grade honeys to over $30 per kilogram for active manuka honey.

Beekeepers with access to manuka honey and/or kiwifruit pollination are doing very well. However, those who produce only bulk honey may be struggling as packers and exporters are only buying from long-term clients. Increases in costs are of great concern and beekeepers will have to critically evaluate their way of "doing business" to see if any savings can be made or better income opportunities exploited. The threats of cheaper imported honey and the possible increased risk of introducing an exotic bee disease are key issues for the industry.

Table 10.3: Income and expenditure for various beekeeping operations, 2005/06

1000 hives
Specialist honey:
700 hives
(South Island)
Pollination and
manuka honey:
700 hives
Highly intensive
honey, bee products
and pollination:
700 hives
Honey 141 600 115 600 157 500 95 750
Bee products 11 500 4 300 5 500 5 500
Pollination 0 0 88 300 62 000
Total revenue 153 100 119 900 251 300 163 350
Variable costs 112 750 82 500 156 400 93 050
Fixed costs 10 900 11 750 13 300 10 400
Total costs 123 650 94 250 169 700 103 450
Total EBIT1 29 480 25 650 81 600 59 900
EBIT/hive 29 37 117 86

AgriBusiness Group.
1 Earnings before interest and tax.

Issues and trends

As at May 2006, 2707 beekeepers owned 300 569 hives on 18 996 apiaries (Table 10.4). Beekeeper numbers continued to decline during 2005/06, falling by 240, compared with 261 last year and 582 in 2004. However, hive numbers increased by 7641 and reversed the downward trend of the past several years.

The huge increases in fuel costs for vehicle running has all commercial beekeepers evaluating the location of their apiaries and the costs of servicing them. Many are considering the costs of servicing and moving hives for pollination, especially kiwifruit which flowers when bush sources are yielding nectar. Others are considering their income mix and may change from honey production to pollination and perhaps live bee production for package bees to the US. Beekeepers wishing to increase income by placing more hives in pollination find they need to mechanise or invest in more labour and/or vehicles to do this: all with consequences to their costs.

Sugar feeding and varroa miticide strips have also increased in price but beekeepers cannot easily save on these costs.

Under new Food Safety Authority requirements, all secondary processors (i.e. those who extract, process, pack or store bee products for export) will have to have an approved risk management plan (RMP) by 1 July 2006, to be eligible for an official assurance (export certificate). So far 150 processors have signed up to have their risk management plans verified. Some beekeepers are selling hives in anticipation of not being able to meet these new conditions, or because they are concerned about potential lower honey prices if imports are permitted and/or the threat of new bee diseases. Other beekeepers are hoping to use the services of contract processors, but these are in short supply and may not choose to take on more clients.

The issue of potential imports of honey from Australia has the industry very concerned and 150 beekeepers marched on Parliament in April 2006 to highlight the issue. Honey from all states except Western Australia, could introduce the exotic bee disease European foulbrood. This disease kills young larvae and greatly reduces colony strength. This disease is usually controlled overseas by feeding antibiotics. However, New Zealand beekeepers do not wish to feed antibiotics and are not sure if they will even be able to under current regulations. Apart from the effect of the disease on honey and pollination hives, beekeepers are concerned that honey prices will be driven down even further, and their business viability will be threatened. Many are saying they cannot survive with bulk honey at its current price level of $3 per kilogram, and are concerned that imports will force prices down even further to between $2 and $2.50 per kilogram. Beekeepers are also concerned that when the free trade agreement is signed with China, huge volumes of very cheap honey may be allowed into New Zealand.

There is a shortage of skilled labour willing and able to work in the beekeeping sector and some staff are "poached" from other employers each year. Beekeeping in the South Island (but not the North Island) is on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list, which eases immigration procedures for potential employees. Employers have had to progressively increase wages and/or conditions to attract and keep employees. Wage rates of $17 to $24 per hour are common and some key personnel earn over $50,000 per annum plus benefits.

Varroa is well established throughout the North Island. Varroa will kill any colonies not managed by beekeepers. Many North Island beekeepers lost a lot of hives during the 2006 autumn, due mainly to varroa. Figures of 10 to 20 percent losses are very common. The problem stemmed mainly from the protracted honey season, which prevented beekeepers from harvesting their honey as early as they wanted to. Beekeepers using contract extracting facilities were held up even more. This delayed the autumn treatment of hives by four to eight weeks and varroa and associated viruses took their toll during this time.

The cost of monitoring and treating varroa, using registered miticide strips (Apistan, Apivar and Bayvarol), are significant and can cost $12 to $24 per hive each year, or more depending on the severity of infestation. This does not include the cost of placing the strips in the hives, removing them after six to eight weeks' treatment and monitoring their effectiveness. New products containing organic oils have come on to the market but they are more variable in their effectiveness than the synthetic products, and hives require more monitoring.

Many beekeepers are reporting resurgence in wasp numbers and attribute the loss of many hives to wasps. These large wasp numbers have not been seen for many years and beekeepers are hoping that this is not a portent of things to come.

Table 10.4: Changes in New Zealand beekeeper and hive statistics since varroa arrived in 2000

Blenheim 414 257 -38 28 443 27 937 -2
Canterbury 727 511 -30 60 356 56 211 -7
Hamilton 486 185 -62 49 863 39 278 -21
Otago/Southland 451 343 -24 50 823 48 134 -5
Palmerston North 1 214 659 -46 43 534 46 581 +7
Tauranga 496 258 -48 51 008 53 797 +5
Whangarei 1 168 494 -58 36 086 31 631 -12
New Zealand 4 956 2 707 -45 320 113 300 569 -6

AgriQuality Limited.

As this report went to press, it was announced that the varroa bee mite had been found in the South Island. The South Island had been considered free of the pest. Although beekeepers can treat hives to reduce the impact of varroa, the find is of concern to both beekeepers and growers of crops requiring pollination. Biosecurity New Zealand has launched an immediate response, and management options are being considered.

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