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Beekeepers swarming over increase in levies

PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Beekeepers predict under-reporting

EMMA BROWN
[email protected]

Beekeepers are set to be stung with a huge increase in levies to pay for the management of the deadly American Foulbrood virus.

New levies proposed by the AFB management agency would see an increase of around 400 per cent over four years from June 1, 2020.

The agency’s consultation with beekeepers about the proposed levy had 53 per cent either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the fee, and 37 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing.

The current levy is $15.17 per apiary and $20 per beekeeper.

The proposed levy will reach a maximum $2.55 per hive and $40 per beekeeper.

National compliance manager for the agency Clifton King said the increase will mean commercial beekeepers would initially pay 65 cents per hive plus GST for 2020-21 season, increasing to $1.80 per hive plus GST in 2024-25.

American Foulbrood is a highly infectious disease. If discovered, infected hives and equipment must be destroyed.

Under regulations, beekeepers are responsible for inspecting hives and destroying any infected hives.

“The more we get rid of AFB, the more profitable beekeeping comes,” said King.

He described the increase in levy as “justified” and only a tiny cost compared with losing a hive worth $1000 to AFB.

Director of biosecurity and animal welfare for the Ministry of Primary Industry Grace Campbell-Macdonald agreed with the agency.

“This is a modest cost to provide greater protection for a valuable asset.”

The number of AFB-infected hives is steady at an average of three per 1000 hives.

The management agency estimates six per cent of beekeepers’ gross returns are lost to the disease. But Jane Lorimer of New Zealand Beekeeping disagrees with the levy increase in the current market, where a lot of beekeepers haven’t been able to sell this year’s crop.

“The levy isn’t reasonable, and some beekeepers will be thrown out [of the industry] as they won’t be able to pay for the rest of it all,” she said.

“We are certainly going to make it known that we aren’t happy.”

Owner and managing director of Gibbs Honeybees and, chairman of the southern North Island beekeeping group, Kevin Gibbs agrees with Lorimer.

“I am amazed at how much they are looking to put the levy”.

Gibbs Honey will have a big increase in fees. With 2000 hives they have an apiary levy cost of around $1340 plus GST.

Over four years, this will increase to $5140 plus GST.

While most beekeepers supported a hive-based levy, many were worried that under-reporting of hive numbers would occur because of the high cost. It is easy to hide a hive compared with an entire apiary.

“In four years, I can almost guarantee it will be back to an apiary levy,” Gibbs said.

The agency will also seek to recover costs from “seriously non-compliant” beekeepers, who fail to deal with AFB.

The agency says it as unfair to expect competent beekeepers to pay for those which are seriously non-compliant.

King says the $1 million funding the agency receives is not enough and the new levy will provide money to increase inspections and testing of honey samples.

“We will be using the funding to provide resources for [inspections] to ensure they will be detected, despite the under-reporting.”

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