In its first season of mānuka honey production, results from the Tūtira trial mānuka plantation are very encouraging.
The trial at Lake Tūtira (north of Napier) aims to assess the viability of mānuka plantations as a profitable option for steep hill country land.
Ten honey samples were taken in December from the first of two honey crops at Tūtira, and collected while the plantation mānuka was flowering. The samples were submitted to two certified laboratories for testing.
Five honey samples were tested to see if they would meet MPI’s scientific definition for mānuka honey. Four met the criteria for a ‘monofloral mānuka honey’ and one for ‘multifloral mānuka honey’, which means consumers can have confidence in the authenticity of this mānuka honey.
In addition, the UMF (Unique Mānuka Honey Factor) grade for these fresh honey samples ranged from 4.7 to 10.6.
“We are pleased with these positive results from the Tūtira mānuka plantation, and we are told we can expect the UMF grade of mānuka honey to improve in the future as the plantation matures and flowering density increases,” says Campbell Leckie, Catchment Services Manager
The mānuka trial was established by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council on the steep slopes above Lake Tūtira. It is part of High Performance Mānuka Plantations – a Primary Growth Partnership programme, utilising cultivars from Comvita’s mānuka selection programme, between Mānuka Research Partnership (NZ) Limited (which Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is part of) and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
The trial was set up to assess the viability of mānuka plantations as a profitable option for steep hill country land and an alternative to pasture. Hawke’s Bay hill country in the north of the region is highly erodible which means loss of productive soil and poorer water quality in streams and rivers.
There are 96 commercial hives on the plantation at present, which is still early in its establishment phase; more hives are likely to be added as the plantation matures.
The laboratory testing also included a ‘forecast’ to predict the increase in UMF value. Storage in the right conditions may increase the UMF months after harvest. The plantation crop has a much higher potential UMF through storage than wild mānuka honey, with a full potential of 14.2-27.5 UMF (compared to 8-16.3 UMF of wild honey). Holding honey in this way can greatly increase its value.
There was a marked increase in average honey yield per hive during the season, resulting in a combined 27.8 kg per hive harvest. Mānuka does not always flower strongly and weather conditions are not always favourable, but when everything comes in line there is a very good return. Properly developed, and effectively managed, this can be a great opportunity for landowners, with a beekeeper’s skill critical to realising plantation returns.
Projected returns based on this season’s harvest would work out at a gross $471 per hectare, or up to $2033 per hectare if it reaches its maximum UMF levels when stored. This compares favourably to returns from sheep and beef farming, eg: Hard hill country (North Island) = $300 - $400/ha; hill country = $479-$570/ha; or intensive finishing farm = $597 - $672.
“The trial plantation is only five years old, so it is encouraging to get these very positive results at this early stage,” says Campbell. “This is important because mānuka plantations potentially complement other activity on the farm, help to reduce sediment in our rivers, increase biodiversity and store carbon.”
“Hawke’s Bay Regional Council's involvement in the High-Performance Mānuka Plantations PGP programme has taught us a lot and, like all naturally-based systems, it can take a long time to learn nature’s secrets. We look forward to seeing the plantation’s performance increase from this great start as it matures.”
13 June 2018
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