Manuka Research Partnership (NZ) Limited and Comvita Limited led a PGP project aiming to grow the value of New Zealand's mānuka honey industry from an estimated $75 million in 2010 towards $1.2 billion per annum.
Programme start: April 2011 Programme end: June 2018 PGP funding: $1.40 million Industry funding: $1.58 million Crown funding paid out to programme for work done to 30 June 2019: $1,417,500 Commercial partners: Manuka Research Partnership (NZ) Limited (MRPL), and Comvita Limited Estimated potential net economic benefits to NZ: $1.125 billion per year by 2028
Domestic and international demand for mānuka honey and products is continuing to grow. However, the local industry is constrained by supply issues including the unpredictability of honey yield and quality across growing regions, mānuka blocks, and seasons.
The aim was higher honey yields
This programme aimed to improve science to yield more honey. Following 7 years of research and associated commercialisation activities, the programme has succeeded in developing techniques required to assess a site then plan, implement, and manage a mānuka plantation for honey production.
The research canvassed many aspects of plantation establishment, growth, and operation, through observation of relatively young plantations which have not yet reached productive maturity.
The aim was to test to failure a range of highly selected mānuka provenance seedlines and several clonal lines to measure their performance, learn their limitations, and develop appropriate management techniques. The challenges that the programme uncovered can now be anticipated and managed over the lifetime of a plantation despite seasonal variations.
The high-performance mānuka plantations solution
The programme sought to:
move the industry from wild harvest to science-based farming of mānuka plantations, increasing the yield and reliability of supply of medical-grade mānuka honey
research how local ecosystems affect mānuka honey yields and quality, studying a range of mānuka genetic material
combine improved genetics with optimum husbandry practices to enable productivity gains.
Spill-over benefits included:
training of PhD-qualified scientists skilled in mānuka research
integration of different industries
development of profitable alternative land-use options for owners of marginal land
further options for riparian plantings and shelter belts.
The resulting net sustainability benefits included:
speeding up the rate of hill-country remediation
reducing the direct and indirect costs of erosion
providing further carbon sinks
improved water quality
re-introduction of shelter belts on irrigated farmland.
Research and trials
Around 400 hectares of trial mānuka plantations were established across 14 sites in the North and South Islands including trials on marginal land, irrigated farmland, and riparian plantings. Key outcomes were as follows:
Some of the mānuka trial cultivars produced nectar with twice the level of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) compared with general mānuka growing in the same district. This occured consistently over 3 seasons. DHA is the precursor to methylglyoxal, which is one of the ingredients that gives value to mānuka honey.
Analysis of plant survival and growth rates, some of trial plantations up to 5 years old, has highlighted the importance on-going pest control.
In controlled experiments conducted over 3 years of PhD studies, genetics is showing to be the main influencer of flowering (time and duration), nectar yield, and quality. This is a significant finding as the programme has access to proprietary mānuka genetics.
Published science paper
Nickless, EM, Holroyd, SE, Stephens, JM, Gordon, KC, and Wargent, JJ (2014). Analytical FT-Raman spectroscopy to chemotype Leptospermum scoparium and generate predictive models for screening for dihydroxyacetone levels in floral nectar. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 45 (10): 890-894. The paper is available from the Wiley Online Library