Exports of Tasmanian honey exports are on the rise, with the island’s main honey producers saying that they are unable to meet the growing demand from Asia and Europe, even before a recent free-trade agreement was signed with China which slashed the tariffs of up to 25% levied on their products.
However, a significant shortage of apiarists and increased difficulty in accessing leartherwood trees in remote parts of local forests is threatening the transition of the industry from that of hobbyists to a high-value niche export industry.
Owner of Australian Honey Products, Lindsay Bourke, produces approximately 25% of Tasmania’s leatherwood honey crop, and is now starting work on a $2.6 million extraction plant and apiarist training centre.
“We’re producing record numbers of everything — including profits — and we’ve had so many Asian clients coming to visit us, almost on a weekly basis, that we can’t get enough honey to satisfy demand,” said Mr Bourke.
“Prices for our product in Tasmania are better than anywhere else in Australia.”
“We are fortunate to have the Tarkine rainforest, where we produce the most beautiful honey — Tasmanian leatherwood — and manuka honey. We have large crop-pollinating inquiries and do a lot of that and at the end of the season we sell surplus live bees to Canada.”
Mr Bourke, who is also the current president of the Tasmanian Beekeepers Association, said that recent growth had left the industry being worth approximately $100m nationally each year already, leading to a significant shortage of apiarists.
The total value of all Tasmanian honey exports increase by 80% from $1.61m back in 2011-12, to $2.82m in 2013-14, with a further increase expected for 2014-15.
Thanks to the assistance of a $1.2m federal innovation and investment fund grant, Mr Bourke is in the process of building an all-new state-of-the-art attraction plant and training centre in Sheffield, in the heart of Tasmania’s economically depressed north.
“With the new facility we’ll be able to train more because there aren’t enough young beekeepers in Australia,” he said.
“It’s an older generation; we are four years older than other farmers — about 58 is the average.”
“It’s outside work — sometimes in the rain; sometimes you get stung. But there’s nothing as rewarding as taking some hives out to the west coast and going back a week later and finding them absolutely full of honey.”
Tasmanian manuka honey in China can cost as much as $80 for a 500g jar. However, a key factor in this price is the constraints on growth due to local Tasmanian regulation that restricts honey production to specific parts within forests and reserves.
“We just can’t get enough leatherwood to satisfy the demand (because) we can’t get access to some of the leatherwood trees,” he said.
“We do rely on the land managers — forestry, parks and private companies — to maintain roads so that we can get access to that beautiful leatherwood.”