Mānuka forest plantings for honey production are surging across the country following breakthroughs in Mānuka breeding and management and strict new rules around Mānuka honey standards.
The growth reflects confidence that Mānuka honey production now presents an attractive alternative for marginal hill country land that was until now only suitable for sheep and beef farming.
The Birch Hill partnership is being developed with New Zealand Mānuka honey leader, the NZX-listed Comvita. Birch Hill owns the land and is funding the lion's share of the property development. In return it will share in the honey revenue and the carbon credits the plantation will generate.
Comvita is meanwhile meeting a smaller share of the Mānuka Forest development and all apiary operating costs. In return it will receive honey revenue and a share of the carbon credits. It will also pay a hive set-down fee.
My Farm now expects Mānuka plantations to form a growing share of its portfolio as landowners and investors gain confidence in the economics of planting a shrub that many of their ancestors worked incessantly to eradicate. Indeed, we reckon Manuka forest plantations in the coming years could amount to tens of thousands of hectares.
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A key driver of the growth is the yield Mānuka plantations can deliver relative to other land uses. We estimate they can yield between $1,800 to $2,200/ha for land that has historically delivered $800 to $1,200/ha from sheep or beef farming.
In addition to delivering enhanced returns, Mānuka forests are helping the New Zealand rural economy in other ways. Manuka plantations stabilise the land, while the removal of stock means a reduction in nutrient run off. The result is less sediment, nutrient and debris flows into water ways.
Jobs are protected with research suggesting that the combination of property and plantation maintenance and apiary activities are equivalent to, or more than, the work required to run a typical sheep and beef property. And, thanks to the carbon credits the forests generate, they are also helping New Zealand meet its commitments under the Paris climate accords.