Many southern beekeepers are struggling to break even this season with little or no honey to show for their efforts and some are already feeding their bees with sugar syrup just to keep them alive.
“It has been a disastrous season, especially for larger commercial beekeepers with large numbers of hives,” says Brian Pilley, president of the Dunedin Beekeepers Club.
Despite a good start to spring, unsettled weather from November on brought cold, wet and windy conditions for most southern beekeepers during the peak summer pollination period.
Unseasonal weather conditions delayed flowering of many plants, restricted flying time for bees and was not conducive to queen’s mating on the wing.
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Pilley said some commercial operators did not expect to harvest a honey crop at all this season. Many had been supplementing their hives with sugar syrup for several months just to keep their bees alive.
“It has been a pretty tough season,” he said. “Some areas have done really well where they have been a bit more sheltered and have had more rain and more heat. Some places have had a later honey flow than normal, but the season in coastal Otago has been a shocker.”
Carne Clissold, of Glass Brothers near Gore, estimates his honey crop will be down about two-thirds on an average season. He has between 2500 and 3000 hives spread between northern and eastern Southland, South and West Otago.
“We ended up harvesting 10-15kg of honey of what we would normally harvest (from each hive), which is less than half the national average,” he said. Last season the national average production per hive was just more than 29kg.
“I’ve been beekeeping for over 30 years and unfortunately I’ve seen a couple of seasons like this. It’s extremely frustrating. Even if you do everything right, Mother Nature has the final say.”
John Graham, of Bennie’s Honey in Ranfurly in Central Otago, said his late harvest of honey in February and early March “saved our bacon”.
Until then it had been a challenging season with wet, cold and windy weather, “everything that bees don’t like”, he said.
Karin Kos, chief executive of Apiculture New Zealand, confirms the same trend nationally with one of the poorest seasons for honey production in the last 10 years.
“We know that volumes across the country are lower. There was a little bit of an improvement towards the end of the season, but not enough to see any significant increase in volumes,” she said.
Meanwhile, the east coasts of the North and South islands had a lot of wind and heat and the west coasts of both islands had a lot of rain, neither of which were conducive to good honey harvests.
Nationally, the Ministry for Primary Industries is forecasting a $35 million drop in honey exports for the 2016-17 season.
In its March situation and outlook report for the primary industry, MPI expects national honey exports to drop from record levels of $315 million for the year to June 2016 to $280 million for the year to June 2017.
The report blames unfavourable climatic conditions impacting on crop flowering, bee activity and nectar flows in several districts.