THE HONEY PRICE RISES AND RISES
Something of concern to various parties and an interesting topic for conversation, albeit for different reasons, is the rise in the local honey prices. What is the reason for this, is it a good thing for the Bee Industry?
One of the reasons is the international honey scene. The global consumption increase over the last few years can be attributed to a general rise in living standards and an increased interest in natural and health products. It seems that worldwide honey consumption and consequently its production demand is increasing annually, and there are no surplus global honey stocks. Natural disasters such as drought, flooding and fire have also taken their toll. It is estimated that two recent devastating forest fires, which may take 10 years to recover, have set the Australian honey production back. Apart from a natural increase in demand and local climatic conditions, more complex issues, such as the green movement, genetically modified crops, sophisticated buyer choice and a health-conscious life style, influence today's honey market.
On the local front, this year the South African Professional Bee Farmers Cooperative, in a report to the National Department of Agriculture's International Trade Directorate, expects a shortfall of
500 ton of honey to be able to meet the local demand, which is estimated at 2000
ton. This Directorate oversees the honey imports into South Africa under the rebate system. The reason for the local shortage of honey is
two fold: disease and a shortage of production units. A survey among KwaZulu-Natal retailers during May 2002
revealed an expected shortage of 40t of honey for the period July - December 2002 in that Province alone. This is above the amount of honey that is already imported.
The result of all this is that the local price of honey has risen from an average of R 12-50 during January 2002 to seasonal highs of between R 16-00 to R18-00 per kg in bulk. Retail prices since May are already above R36-00 per kg and are now (October) touching R44-00 per kg. It is clear that there is a gap between the consumer price and the producer price, and the producer price is trailing behind
at this stage.
Two contributors focused on the honey quality debate
firstly Peter Martin (Consultant, United Kingdom) and secondly Kim Flutton (Editor Bee Culture, United States). The honey quality debate in Europe and the United States could have an effect on the South African market and its supply. The resistance of European markets to antibiotics in honey from China has led to recent enquiries from importers of honey in the United Kingdom. I replied to one enquiry and was informed as follows: their requirements is 34 tons, of preferably a single source honey, per month. The current bulk price of locally produced honey in the UK is £3,50. A premium is paid for local honey. Telephonic offers to a minimum of £1,50 was made, which converts to R22-50 for honey in bulk whereas the current local bulk price is R 14-00 per kg.
The most important aspect for the South African honey packer (and indirectly for the local beekeeper) to note, is the possibility of poor quality honey being rejected on other European or the United State markets, being dumped on the local South Africa market. You are reminded of what happened during 1993 when large volumes of poor quality Chinese honey were imported and we lost almost a third of our market! This must never happen again.
Ask any beekeeper north of the Overberg what the biggest threat to his business is and he will not hesitate in replying that it is empty beehives as a result of capensis invader bees, secondly he will mention vandalism and only thirdly the latent threat of the varroa mite. Many may point to the ignorance of South African beekeepers in underrating the danger
of the varroa mite. Unfortunately the reality for beekeepers is that they are still clueless on what should be done about
the Cape bee problem. As one beekeeper pointed out: "When I find varroa mites in my beehives I know what product to use,
but how do you expect me to use these expensive but excellent products if I cannot save my colonies from Cape bees?" Randall Hepburn
form Rhodes University has written a comprehensive update on the latest findings and thought trends on the subject of the Cape invader bees.