Revolution launched at Fieldays
Growing up on a dairy farm in the Wairarapa, bees were the furthest things from Grant Engel’s mind. Now, they’re his livelihood and the inspiration for his business.
Engel is the brains behind Revolutionary Beekeeping, a mobile stainless steel harvester that enables beekeepers to extract honey straight from the hive, instead of the more traditional method of transporting frames from hives to an off-site processor.
As a child, Grant visited Fieldays and was inspired by the agricultural inventions and new technology on show. He decided that when he grew up he’d someday return with an invention of his own.
Years later, after moving from Wairarapa to a dairy farm in sunny Kerikeri, Grant couldn’t help but notice the region’s focus on bees and honey.
“I realised that taking honey away from the hive and processing it was much like getting a dairy cow and driving it to a shared facility where it was milked and then taking it back to site — it didn’t make a lot of sense. I thought I could come up with something different.”
Grant did come up with something — an idea for a device for beekeepers that enabled them to harvest honey by putting each hive frame through a machine quickly to extract honey, right next to the hive.
Harvesting honey on-site also removes the risk of spreading disease between hives, something that has been a risk for honey harvesters over the years.
With a prototype under his arm, Grant entered the Fieldays Innovation Awards in 2013, in the Launch NZ category for products ready for commercialisation and launch to the New Zealand market.
“I’d been following Fieldays’ innovations for a long time; the Innovations Centre was always my first stop when I went to Fieldays, and I wanted to enter something so I could be on stage alongside all the other innovations that had inspired me. It was the culmination of my childhood dream.”
“A lot of the innovations I had been seeing were generally focused on traditional agriculture, so I thought something to do with beekeeping would be a bit left-field and new. There wasn’t much out there at the time that really looked at time-saving technology or innovation for beekeeping and honey.”
The market must have been ready, because Grant’s innovation went on to win the Launch NZ category.
Grant reckons the key to success with innovation is being passionate about what you do.
“I wanted to find a solution to a common problem — I knew we couldn’t keep doing things the way we were just because that was the way it had always been done.
“Even looking at the last 10 years, so much has changed in the honey industry. Our hives have just about doubled and biosecurity is much more of an issue. As an industry, we need to be constantly revisiting and reevaluating what we’re doing to make sure we’re protecting our food producers and the sustainability of our products for generations to come.”
This is an approach that’s worked well for Grant, and since 2015 Revolutionary Beekeeping has taken off. The business has hives and beekeepers across the country, with support from big agribusiness organisations including Landcorp and sustainable dairy farming fund Southern Pastures. It has also expanded into collecting and brokering honey directly from commercial beekeepers, enabling them to make profit from their honey.
Grant says the success of Revolutionary Beekeeping is largely down to the fact that they’re on the same wavelength as their customers.
“They want beekeeping that protects the health and sustainability of bees, and so do we. That’s really important to us.”
Grant is also passing his passion on to the next generation of sustainable beekeeper, to daughters Isla, 8, and Belle, 5.
“They’re really curious and interested. They have a hive each and little beekeeping suits, and they’re always saving bees inside and letting them out.
“Their favourite breakfast is honey on toast, that’s our daily ritual. It’s really nice they have that appreciation of where honey comes from.”