Until 1955 most of the honey produced in New Zealand was sold to the Internal Marketing Division, a government agency. In 1955 the Honey Marketing Authority was formed, which until 1980 was effectively the sole exporter of honey from New Zealand. This ceased in the 1980s, when private individuals and companies began to export honey and honey products.
All premises involved in the extraction, processing and packing of honey must be registered under the Food Hygiene Regulations 1974.
Mānuka honey (and its Australian equivalent) is the only one sold that has antibacterial qualities. It contains a component found only in honey produced from Leptospermum plants. All honey initially has antibacterial activity, due to hydrogen peroxide formed by the enzyme glucose oxidase, but this enzyme is destroyed when exposed to heat and light. Unlike other honeys, mānuka honey is stable and does not lose its activity in storage.
The colour and flavour of honey is determined by the nectar it is made from. White clover produces a white honey, valued for its smooth texture and delicate taste. The white blossom of mānuka (Leptospermum scoparium), which grows uncultivated throughout the country, produces a rich, amber-coloured honey with a strong aromatic flavour. Other honey types come from native trees such as rātā, rewarewa and kāmahi, or from plants such as vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare) and thyme.
Annual honey production averages about 24 kilograms per hive, but this depends on the weather. The average for the 2006 season was 34.7 kilograms. Between 2001 and 2005, New Zealand produced 9,000 tonnes of honey per year – an average of about 30 kilograms per hive. Busy hives can produce several times this amount in a good season.
Most beeswax is recycled into new combs for hives, but the rest is used to make candles, furniture polish, lipsticks, crayons, face creams and chewing gum.
Propolis has high levels of bio-flavonoids, thought to help boost the immune system. Pollen is sold for its amino acids, minerals and vitamins. Creamy-white royal jelly, a secretion of young bees used to feed the queen, is considered to have health benefits. Honey and other bee products are processed into skincare creams.
Propolis is a gum or resin exuded by trees and shrubs and collected by bees. Beekeepers scrape it off hive frames and boxes, and usually mix it with beeswax. Propolis is an antibiotic, and is made into many therapeutic products after extraction and refining.
The export of live bees generated $0.9 million in 2006. Queens, or packages of worker bees and a queen, are sold to stock new hives. This well-established trade is due to New Zealand’s reputation for having comparatively disease-free stock.
Beekeepers hire out more than 90,000 hives each year to pollinate crops, mostly kiwifruit. It is estimated that pollination services are worth about $9 million annually. The value of bee pollination to the agricultural industry is difficult to estimate, but is predominantly related to the pollination of white clover flowers. In pasture, the regeneration of clover is largely from seed heads that have dropped seeds onto the soil, some of which last for many years before germinating. On cropping farms, clover seeds are harvested and sold for the sowing of new pastures. The production of these seeds would have required pollination of clover flowers at some earlier date.