Barton Holdings is a Taranaki honey business collecting and processing manuka honey at its extraction facility for exporting, primarily to China. The production chain incorporates an innovative RFID system to allow traceability from the hive to the jar.
It has been estimated that beehive numbers in the North Island have increased by over 60% in four years, numbering around 250,000 in 2011 to just over 420,000 in 2015.
At a recent honey conference in Taranaki, delegates discussed key issues around the international trade of manuka honey. Chief concerns were around its authenticity, the potential of adulteration, and cross-contamination. In addition, current Manuka labelling systems are confusing for both consumers and regulators, and some products would be better described as blends.
Ahead of a regulatory definition of manuka honey, exporters were told to do their best to ensure the product they sold was wholly, or mainly, manuka honey.
Brett and Lorinda Mascull started up Barton Holdings after running a dairy feeds company – BLM Feeds. Brett says he was intrigued by the growing Manuka honey industry in NZ and decided to establish a business that controlled the entire process from the hive to the honey jar.
The Masculls decided that having their own land, hives, their own contracted beekeepers and a honey extraction facility, would be the best way of growing a business and maintaining control of the end product in what is now a very high stakes industry.
The company bought two 350-hectare properties in the eastern Taranaki backcountry where wild manuka flourishes. One is east of Eltham, and the other northeast of Hawera.
Barton Holdings have their own beekeepers on their properties and they are also involved in another joint venture business called Ambrosia Park. The company also has contracted beekeepers in Northland and Bay of Plenty who send honey for extraction at the Taranaki plant.
Brett says they’ve identified enough land for close to 4,000 hives. At present the company has 1,300 hives through Taranaki, Northland and Gisborne. This geographical spread of hives allows the business to spread the flow of honey over more months, with the Northland honey coming on stream earlier than the more southern hives.
The extraction facility in Taranaki started operation in the 2014/2015 season. Roughly 4,000 boxes were extracted, yielding around 62,000 kg of honey.
Brett’s son Tyson runs the plant. He says that at full capacity, the facility can process around 200 boxes in a 10-hour shift. He estimates that around 150 tonnes of honey could be extracted over a 10-week period.
The honey is marketed as “Naki New Zealand Manuka Honey”. They are using the UMF grading system.
The facility is also available to 3rd party beekeepers. Many of them also store their honey at the facility.
The company has developed a system that traces the honey back to the site where it was gathered. The RFID technology was developed with the help of a grant from Callaghan Innovation. Brett says that the technology was clearly the best system, with it already widely used in agriculture for monitoring the movement of animals under the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme (NAIT).
RFID uses an electromagnetic field to transfer data for the purpose of identifying and tracking tags attached the honey boxes.
Brett says tags are scanned in the field and the information is automatically uploaded to cloud based software. When the honey is brought in for extraction, the boxes are weighed and scanned. The information can be used to produce a report on the honey produced from each property and also provide proof of authenticity.
That same information is given to each landowner as proof of the amount of honey produced from manuka on their properties. Landowners can choose to receive a fee per hive, a hive fee/crop share payment, or a payment based solely on a share of the crop.
Brett says the system allows them and the landowner transparency and certainty and they can be confident that they’re being paid for what is taken from their farm.
Given the growing market concern about some of the claims around manuka honey, the RFID system also offers traceability from the jar back to the property where the honey is from via the company website. This allows the retailer and consumer the ability to confirm the provenance and authenticity of the product.
The Ministry for Primary Industries is currently in the process of developing an industry-wide standard for the definition of monofloral manuka honey. The following is from the Ministry for Primary Industries website:
There is no agreed scientific definition for monofloral mānuka honey, so this work will provide clarity about the characteristics of monofloral mānuka honey when sold as a food. In 2014, MPI and industry developed an interim guide to meet legislative labelling requirements for mānuka honey.
Science programme update at February 2017:
- The programme has developed criteria and test methods for identifying New Zealand mānuka honey using both chemicals in the honey and DNA from mānuka pollen.
- MPI is working with commercial laboratories to ensure that when we share the science findings, they can accurately and reliably test honey for companies. While this is happening, we are taking elements of the definition through additional external, independent review. This is expected to take about 8 weeks.
- After this work, MPI will consult with the sector on how this definition will be applied through changes to the requirements for export honey.
If you have any questions or would like more information about the MPI Manuka Honey Science Programme, email firstname.lastname@example.org