CATCH THE BUZZ: Australian Weather Bad For Honey Production

Australia’s Weather Significantly Reduces Honey Production

Alan Harman

Australian honey producers have halted overseas exports and been unable to fill some of their supermarket orders after drought, heat waves, bush fires and a severe drop in the number of flower blossoms saw an estimated 30% of the bee population wiped out.

Australia’s hottest year on record in 2013 severely hampered honey flows for bee keepers, with high temperatures causing stress and erratic behavior in bee populations. Queensland-based Capilano Honey says in a statement that in extreme heat wave conditions beeswax honeycombs can melt inside the hive.

The heat forces bees to remain inside and collectively fan their wings in an attempt to keep the hive cool.

Pollination services to Australian agriculture are valued at more than A$1.7 billion (US$1.59 billion) a year, while domestic supermarket retail sales of honey are in excess of A$150 million (US$140.4 million) a year.

Capilano has cut its domestic product range and is importing honey from Argentina, Canada, China and Europe for its international customers.

Managing Director Ben McKee tells the Sydney Morning Herald price rises do nothing to combat the shortage.

“Honey prices have increased but there is no great result … because honey is physically not being produced. It doesn’t exist,” McKee says. “You can’t buy what doesn’t exist.”

Victoria-based Beechworth Honey says Australian beekeepers are facing honey production losses of between 50% and 90% as a result of weather events, heat waves, bushfires and drought across vast areas of Australia.

Owner and director Jodie Goldsworthy says in a statement production for honey this season has been severely impacted with estimates there will only be about half the amount produced as is normally produced.

“These difficult climatic conditions have resulted in much lower than normal volumes of honey being available to Beechworth Honey and everyone else involved in the Australian honey industry,” Goldsworthy says.

“For companies like Beechworth Honey which will only ever use 100% Australian honey this has meant that we have had no option but to request voluntary deletions from the major supermarkets for some of our high volume fast moving lines.”

She says customers will notice the company’s 1.5kg (3.3 lb.) will become unavailable and they will see prices for Australian honey rise across the board as the shortages hit.

“We expect to see imported honey begin to appear in other brands in the market but Beechworth Honey will manage the shortage by downsizing its markets in order to accommodate the reduced supply,” Goldsworthy says.

“We sincerely apologize for this but want to stress that when things return to normal as they will in the coming 12 months we will be back. We will never compromise on quality but can only make available what Mother Nature allows us to.”

Goldsworthy says times such as these are also a good opportunity to reflect on how important bees and Australian beekeepers are to the broader pollination of the food supply and to perhaps focus with more resolve on working towards managing and raising awareness of the complex, cumulative and interrelated threats to honeybees.

Visitors to Beechworth will see the expansion of the company’s educational facilities.

“We are confident in the future of the Australian honey industry,” Goldsworthy says. “Building a honey discovery center during a severe honey drought really raises the image of a pub with no beer, (but) from four generations as honey producers we know that the honey will flow again.”

Earlier this year, Australian Honey Bee Industry Council executive director Trevor Weatherhead said the honey shortage has the potential to rock the industry in the short term.

“It is a dire time for the honey industry with both apiarists and honey packers bracing themselves for the next 12 months,” he said. “Honey stock is now the scarcest it has been in over ten years and honey packers are finding it very difficult to secure supplies.

“We have witnessed a ‘perfect storm’ of negative weather conditions.”