Honey Industry Has Its Challenges, says Waikato-Based Summerglow

By Tristan Hooker/MediaPA

It’s not easy being a bee.  It’s not easy being a beekeeper either.  For all the intelligence and resourcefulness of the bee and the keeper, there are still plenty of pitfalls.

As in any community, whether human or bee, an outbreak of disease can be devastating.

Summerglow Apiaries of Te Kowhai, in the Waikato, have been in the business of beekeeping and manufacturing quality Manuka honey for 40 years.

They have had a great run and continue to do well despite threats to the industry from introduced diseases and parasites – but only through careful management and vigilance.

Director and co-owner of Summerglow, James Jeffery, says the most serious threat to New Zealand honeybees is the overstocking of bee sites and American Foulbrood, which is an extremely contagious and deadly disease for bees.

“The varroa mite has its challenges and has certainly changed the way bees have been kept in the last 10 to 12 years but the biggest issue we’ve got is the American Foulbrood disease,” says James.

“If any disease we currently have is going to cause big issues it’s that one.  It’s a notifiable bee disease and it requires that once a hive is detected with that disease it has to be burned within seven days of its discovery.”

James says the way to keep the disease at bay is to be vigilant, regularly inspecting the hives and dealing with the disease if it is detected.

“Every beekeeper should be finding Foulbrood in their hives from time to time because it exists in the country.  If you are not finding it then you are not looking hard enough,” he says.  Personally I’m not sure if it will ever be eradicated.

“Avoiding it is about inspecting your hives well, having staff who are trained and have the time to inspect their hives and ensuring a good distance between bee sites.

“The shift within the industry at present to larger beekeeping outfits managing massive hive numbers in the tens of thousands, putting pressure on staff to perform duties quickly, can lead to corner cutting and in turn a higher incidence of disease.”

James Jeffery says the perception beekeeping is a lucrative industry can attract the wrong type of people.

“It’s got that gold rush mentality which everybody wants a piece of,” says James, “but if you don’t know what the business is really like and don’t know what to expect, it can lead to making mistakes like cutting corners and putting too many hives in one area.

“Too many hives in one place means there’s not enough nectar and pollen for the bees and can also lead to the spread of disease, “which affects everyone in the industry.”

“If you’re coming into it to just make money, if you’re in it for the wrong reasons, that’s where problems can start.

“Bees are our life and livelihood. We are passionate about the health of our hives and will not put our bees at risk for the sake of a few more dollars.  We urge all those who keep bees in either a small or large business to keep the health of the bees at the forefront of their minds.”

Summerglow Apiaries specialise in UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) Manuka Honey and have 2800 hives located in the Waikato and Taranaki regions.