WA’s emerging jarrah honey export industry is under threat from diminishing supplies, and local prices are set to skyrocket.Produced exclusively in WA, the thick, dark-coloured, non-crystallising jarrah honey is in high demand from China, Japan and Hong Kong.
It fetches premium prices because of its antimicrobial and antioxidant qualities which offer healing benefits similar to that of New Zealand’s manuka honey. Beekeepers are struggling to meet demand.
WA’s biggest honey packer, Capilano Wescobee, expects to receive only 5-10 tonnes of jarrah honey from the current biennial season, down from a peak of 150 tonnes in 2010-2011.
Capilano Wescobee WA branch manager Michael Bellman said the decline in volumes partly reflected the scarcity of the honey. It was also likely an increasing amount of jarrah honey was being sold direct or to smaller honey packers, which were paying more because of dwindling supplies.
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WA Farmers bee section president Leilani Leyland said the scarcity was driven by a lack of flowering jarrah (eucalyptus marginata) trees, which are found exclusively between Gingin and Albany. The trees should flower prolifically every second year from late November to early February, and WA beekeepers put their hives on sites in these areas to collect the unique monofloral jarrah honey during this time.
However, trees in important jarrah honey collection sites have declined because of continued harvesting, exacerbated by damage after the major South West bush fires in recent years and the prescribed burning that followed.
Remaining trees were under stress from other factors including climate change and dieback, leading to scarcer flowering and less nectar in the flowers which do occur.
“As a result the biennial season now drawing to a close has been very weak,” Mrs Leyland said.
“Some beekeepers who usually produce jarrah honey have not attempted to do so this year, preferring to put their hives elsewhere.
“Others will find their production of jarrah honey considerably down — maybe half that of the last season.”
Mr Bellman estimates about 40 per cent of the jarrah honey produced in 2010-2011 was exported and demand was growing as the health benefits of jarrah honey became recognised.
However, customers have been advised their orders for jarrah honey would not be met this year. Instead, the international demand could be filled by the other exclusively WA produced monofloral honey from redgums, or marri trees (eucalyptus calophylla), which flower annually and are in far bigger supply.
Mr Bellman forecast about 200 tonnes of marri honey would be delivered to Capilano Wescobee this year.
Demand for jarrah and redgum honey surged in the past year as the industry joined forces, supported by State Government to build a value-added industry.
A three-year, $1.1 million project funded by Royalties for Regions, Department of Agriculture and Food WA, ChemCentre and industry, involves quantifying the taste and therapeutic benefits of the jarrah and marri honeys and establishing a certification scheme to provide customer satisfaction.
ChemCentre food scientist Ken Dods, who is working with a consortium of honey producers representing about 85 per cent of WA production, said the two WA monofloral honeys had higher antimicrobial activity than New Zealand’s manuka honey.
He said the combination of determining this high activity, a certification system among WA growers, and rising international awareness of the health benefits, meant the international price for these premium WA monofloral honeys had multiplied tenfold in the past year. These higher prices are benefiting WA beekeepers and other associated businesses.