The value of New Zealand's mānuka honey industry could grow from an estimated $75 million in 2010 towards $1.2 billion per annum following a PGP innovation programme led by Manuka Research Partnership (NZ) Limited and Comvita Limited.
Domestic and international demand for mānuka honey and products is continuing to grow.
But the local industry is constrained by supply issues, including the unpredictability of honey yield and quality across growing regions, mānuka blocks and seasons.
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.
Combining improved genetics with optimum husbandry practices could enable significant productivity gains.
Spill-over benefits include the training of PhD qualified scientists skilled in mānuka research; the integration of different industries; development of profitable alternative land-use options for owners of marginal land; and further options for riparian plantings and shelter belts.
The resulting net sustainability benefits include (i) speeding up the rate of hill-country remediation; (ii) reducing the direct and indirect costs of erosion; (iii) providing further carbon sinks; (iv) improved water quality; and (v) re-introduction of shelter belts on irrigated farm land.
Around 400 hectares of trial mānuka plantations have been established across 14 sites in the North and South Islands including trials on marginal land, irrigated farm land and riparian plantings.
Some of the mānuka trial cultivars have consistently over 3 seasons produced nectar with twice the level of dihydroxyacetone (DHA) compared with general mānuka growing in the same district. Dihydroxyacetone is the precursor to methylglyoxal.
Analysis of plant survival and growth rates, some of trial plantations up to five years old, has highlighted the importance on-going pest control.
In controlled experiments conducted over three years of PhD studies, genetics is showing to be the main influencer of flowering (flowering time and duration), nectar yield and quality. This is a significant finding as the programme has access to proprietary mānuka genetics. The influence of genetics will be further studied in the programme.
Published science papers include: Nickless, E M, Holroyd, S E, Stephens, J M, Gordon, K C and Wargent, J J (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.
Programme start: April 2011 Length: 7 years PGP funding: $1.40 million Industry funding: $1.58 million Crown fundingpaid out to programme for work done to30 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