Independent evaluation of high-performance mānuka plantations

High-performance mānuka plantations was a 7-year Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programme. The programme finished in September 2018. Read about the results of an independent evaluation of the programme.

Background to the high-performance mānuka plantations programme

New Zealand’s mānuka honey industry relies on wild harvest mānuka plantations. This means the volume and quality of honey produced can be unpredictable.

The programme aimed to:

  • increase the yield of medical-grade mānuka honey, and make the supply more reliable. It would do this by moving the industry from wild harvest to science-based farming of mānuka plantations.
  • grow the value of New Zealand's mānuka honey industry from an estimated $75 million in 2010 toward $1.2 billion per year. This was revised to between $100 million and $150 million by 2028.
  • understand how mānuka variety traits and local ecosystems affect yield and antibacterial activity in mānuka honey. There was a focus on mānuka growing on "marginal land". 

The other co-investors in the programme were:

  • DR & CY Tweeddale Partnership
  • Comvita Limited
  • Nukuhau Carbon Limited
  • Arborex Industries Limited (from 2010)
  • Hawke’s Bay Regional Council
  • Landcorp Farming Limited (from 2014)
  • Māori Trustee / Te Tumu Paeroa (from 2015).

Evaluation of high-performance mānuka plantations achievements

As part of its monitoring for PGP programmes, the Ministry for Primary Industries commissioned an independent evaluation. This looked at:

  • outcomes and benefits
  • programme execution
  • lessons learnt.

What the evaluation found

The overall finding was that the high-performance mānuka plantations programme provided useful information to improve the industry.

  • The programme had extremely optimistic goals but has not yet delivered substantial economic growth.
  • There is not enough land with hives for mānuka honey production to reach the original aim of $1.2 billion by 2028. Revenue of $100 to $150 million may be possible if conditions allow good plant growth, flowering, and nectar production.
  • The programme ran for 7 years, which was not enough time to fully study the growing of mānuka, or develop a strong business case for establishing mānuka plantations on marginal land. Continued monitoring of trial plantations will be important for future success.
  • An economic analysis indicates that mānuka plantations can be more profitable than sheep and beef farming on marginal land if favourable growing conditions are met.
  • "Boundary stacking" is a problem in the industry. This is an unregulated activity where beehives are placed on the edge of a property to give bees access to mānuka on neighbouring land. It can have an impact on honey yields of neighbouring beekeepers.
  • Increasing hive numbers would also impact on the mānuka honey yields targeted by the programme.
  • To achieve honey "monoflorality" and a unique mānuka factor (UMF) of 10 or more, beekeepers need at least 100 hectares of mānuka.
  • Over the next 5 to 10 years, the programme’s findings will help beekeepers produce honey with UMF levels higher than the original targets.
  • The project looked at the performance and limitations of mānuka seed lines and clonal lines. It also developed management techniques for mānuka. This will help growers to manage the challenges of growing mānuka, and the effects of seasonal changes.
  • Mānuka Farming New Zealand Ltd has done an excellent job of creating marketing material and presenting it to landowners. However, growers have been sceptical of the programme as it hasn’t yet developed a proven business case. This has resulted in less interest than expected.

High-performance mānuka plantations lessons

Lessons learnt include the importance of:

  • strong planning and careful goal-setting
  • using more than one research provider
  • allowing enough time to produce results that people can have confidence in
  • being flexible, and changing the direction of a project when necessary
  • ensuring that everyone in the project is working towards the same goals
  • having a clear plan to commercialise research results.

 

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