Profitable land use for marginal land

Posted on February 25, 2016

Manuka on target to be the most profitable land use option for marginal land

Manuka production is a sound economic option for New Zealand farmers seeking better economic returns from marginal farmland.

Marginal land tends to have a shallow layer of topsoil and therefore tends to grow poor grass species and not much grass at all. It is often prone to erosion and drought, and is difficult and expensive to fence. It requires a lot of input to keep it free of weed species. Stocking rates are low and properties are difficult to manage.

Manuka is a natural colonizing species for regenerating native New Zealand forests. It thrives on low fertile soils with a low pH and is resistant to nearly all fungal diseases and insect pests.

Native to New Zealand, Manuka is not known to occur naturally in any other country. Its close relative, the Australian jellybush plant, does not have some of the chemical compounds that makes Manuka unique.

Worldwide demand for Manuka honey is well outstripping supply, with 20+ UMF medicinal grade honey now retailing for $600-$700 per kg – the same price as expensive cognacs and perfumes.

New Zealand farmers are in the box seat to take advantage of the Manuka phenomenon.

In fill planting

Generally a marginal property will contain several nectar bearing plant species. Some of these include clover, regenerating Manuka, Kanuka and other native plant species. These species all produce honey of some value, although not as valuable as pure monofloral medicinal grade Manuka honey.

It is therefore recommended that any plant species that does not produce honey of any value, or does not produce pollen for bee brood, is removed. Any plant species that does have honey value or does provide pollen for bees is left on the property.

All gaps between existing tree species should be in filled with medicinal grade Manuka plants so that the property is completely covered in plants with a high proportion being in Manuka.

The Non Peroxide Activity (NPA) strength of the honey will depend on the percentage of Manuka plants along with the Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) superiority of the genetics of the Manuka in the plantation.

The right balance of plant species

Many beekeepers move their hives around the country to follow the Manuka flowering cycle. Not only is this time consuming and expensive, it also increases the risk of foul brood infection, varroa mite infestation, colony collapse disorder and other beekeeping maladies.

It makes far better sense to leave the hive in one area all year round and plant the necessary plant species to maximize honey income while at the same time keeping the hive colonies well fed and in good health.

One of the key factors to keeping the hives well fed is to have enough pollen bearing species flowering from March through to November.

Such species include Phormium tenax (Harakeke), Cordyline australis (Cabbage tree), Pseudopanax arboreus (Five finger), Geniostoma rupestre (Hangehange), Pittosporum eugenioides (Lemonwood), Chamaecytisus palmensis (Tagasaste or Tree lucerne), Malus domestica (Apple), Prunus persica (Peach), Pyrus communis (Pear), Citrus sinensis (Orange), Callistemon salignus (Bottlebrush), Rosmarinus officinalis (Rosemary), Salix babylonica (Weeping willow), to name a few prolific pollen bearing species. Additional information on pollen bearing plant species can be found on treesforbeesnz.org

At the same time it is possible to extend the flowering cycle of the Manuka by planting a range of early, mid, and later flowering provenances. The provenances chosen need to be matched to the climate of the location.

Economics

To give a broad overview of the economics of farming Manuka, the traditional planting rate for marginal land is 1,111 plants per ha (3m x 3m spacings). For more gentle contoured land, Manuka can be grown in hedgerows at a planting rate of 2,500 plants per ha (2.5m x 1.6m spacings). The hedgerows can be kept trimmed, with the trimmings being able to be sold for leaf oil extraction. The trimmed plants can be maintained in a juvenile state thereby substantially increasing the plants longevity.

Seed grown plants are available in 50 cell forestry trays, or in a larger 28 cell forestry trays. The cost to plant 50 cell seed grown plants, including plants, planting, and weed control is approximately $2,300 per ha, based on a planting rate of 1,111 plants per ha, or approximately $4,500 per ha, based on a planting rate of 2,500 plants per ha. The cost to plant 28 cell seed grown plants, including plants, planting, and weed control is approximately $3,200 per ha based on a planting rate of 1,111 plants per ha, or approximately $6,600 per ha based on a planting rate of 2,500 plants per ha.

The first honey harvest begins in the third summer after planting, with maximum honey yields occurring from year 6 onwards. The typical honey yield per ha from indigenous Manuka is estimated at 25-60 kg per ha and the average price to the beekeeper at present is $25-$35 per kg, which translates to an average income for honey per ha of $600-$1500. Hive stocking rates on indigenous Manuka is generally based on 1 hive per ha.

For plantations containing a large percentage of Manuka of superior DHA genetics, hive stocking rates are expected to be between 2-4 hives per ha, depending on the number of plants planted per ha.

Kauri Park Nurseries can prepare Cash Forecasts for Manuka honey plantations for Landowners, Beekeepers, and any other organisation considering investing in a Manuka plantation. Cash Forecasts are tailored according to the inputs and shareholding of the various parties involved.

By Andrew Wearmouth