Liquid gold rush
How local honey could create a $1 billion industry
MANUKA honey has the potential to become a $1 billion industry on the Northern Rivers, with local landholders, bees, and the environment set to benefit, according to agribusiness company Gather By.
Representatives from the company were in the region last week to host information sessions at Newrybar and Lismore, in which they outlined their plans for a medical-grade Manuka honey business to be created in partnership with local landholders.
Under the model, local landholders will grow plantations of the Manuka plant, or leptospermum, on their properties, and be paid by Gather By for the high-grade honey that is produced from them.
Gather By’s network of professional beekeepers will be used to harvest the honey.
Gather By’s target is to plant 5000ha or 13 million plants over the next five years to produce 1800 tonnes or $1 billion worth of Manuka honey in NSW and Queensland.
Gather By CEO Mat Blomfield said the company was focused on the Northern Rivers because it was a hotspot for the leptospermum plant.
“You’ve got the red soil, the climate the water and it’s where it’s been naturally occurring for tens of thousands of years,” Mr Bloomfiled said.
“It’s absolutely right in the sweet spot.
“Everybody’s trying to make it in other places, but this is it – this is the epicentre of it.”
Gather By has collaborated with the University of the Sunshine Coast, University of Technology and University of Western Sydney in the development of the project, and selected 15 species of high-potency Manuka plants for propagation.
They have created a plantation model called the Medicinal Honey Forest – similar to that used in a permaculture food forest – which focuses on soil health and the inclusion of plants for bee health and nutrition alongside the leptospermum.
The company currently has plantations in seven bio-regions in NSW and Queensland, including a site at Limpinwood near Mt Warning, and a commercial plantation near Byron Bay.
After three years of research, Mr Blomfield says they are ready to commercialise the project, and are seeking landholders with at least 4ha to invest in a plantation.Local landholders at Gather By’s information session at Newrybar Hall last week heard that there was a massive global demand for Manuka honey, but currently nowhere near enough supply.
New Zealand, the only other country where the Manuka bush grows, has developed a highly successful Manuka honey industry, and Australia, which is home to more than 86 species of leptospermum, has the potential do the same.
Manuka honey, or medicinal-grade honey, is highly sought after for its therapeutic benefits.
It has anti-microbial properties that are beneficial for wound healing and gut health and it has been identified as a tool in the fight against the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
Price per kg varies depending on the potency of the honey, which is measured in UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) and ranges from 5+ (lower activity) to 25+ (super anti-microbial activity).
The higher the rating, the higher the cost – the highest rated Manuka honey currently retails for more than $250/kg.
SWEET FUTURE: Gather By CEO Mat Blomfield at a leptospermum plantation near Mt Warning.
IN DEMAND: There is a massive global demand for Manuka honey.