With Dallas Russ (Lion Apiaries)

dallasruss-1aDallas Russ has been sweet on bees for more than 10 years. What started as a hobby evolved into a passion for growing and protecting New Zealand’s bee population. Today, the Lion Apiaries’ managing director breeds queen bees for other beekeepers and also places hives on private land.

How important are bees to the economy – is it all about the honey?

While our honey exports have been a great economic boost  in recent times, bees have, historically, been vital to our primary industry, in particular pollination of key crops such as clover and kiwifruit. However, most gardeners I talk to are very vocal about how the mere presence of bees seems to encourage plants to put out more flowers and to crop better. Because bees hibernate through winter they have a population ready to work in the early spring whereas other pollinating insects haven’t been able to produce enough numbers to do the job.

How much honey is produced in NZ?

About 20,000 tonnes of honey is produced annually. We produce more than we can consume even when you consider everything that honey goes into, honey is very versatile.

How important are bees globally and what is the state of colonies across the world?

Kiwis have a good understanding of the value of bees to our ecosystem and this has helped us avoid the fall in bee populations seen in the USA and other countries. Over the past five years, California lost hundreds of thousands of bee colonies used in the pollination of almonds and no one understood why. Recently, scientists discovered that some insecticides, thought safe for bees, were impacting larvae. Subsequently, a new study was undertaken, which revealed how combinations of insecticides and fungicides, deemed individually ‘safe’ for honeybees turned, into lethal cocktails when mixed. This research will open the door to more study of fungicide and pesticide use on bee-dependent crops.

Recently, an Australian report reveled that 40% of the world’s insects could be extinct within a few decades. How catastrophic would it be if this was to occur?

I have observed that insects have been on the decline over the past 30 years as good land is swallowed by urban development. We certainly need to look at how we take care of our environment. There is no easy answer. In my experience, coming from a farming family, people do care deeply about the environment, growing healthy food, and enjoying nature’s various creatures. We are now seeing a lot of enthusiastic, energetic landowners keen to protect waterways and plant natives, as well as other plants which encourage birds and insects. I think, here in NZ, we are making good progress.

Manuka honey has been credited with properties which improve one’s health, how accurate are the claims?

Pioneers in our beekeeping industry did ground-breaking research into manuka honey and discovered it has additional health benefits beyond that of normal raw honey. Because it has value as a raw, active honey it has become known as a honey with natural healing and body maintenance benefits. As a product of value, the price is higher due to supply and demand.

In general, however, raw honey is very good and has been used throughout history for external and internal medical relief. The natural antibiotic properties of honey make it a useful topical dressing.

The government has introduced legislation around the status of manuka honey; how does this affect our industry?

To protect our reputation in the global market, NZ created measurements to enable reliable classifications of manuka honey. This is another way of representing things by using registered testing and labelling. With the new testing for MGO (Methylglyoxal), there have been several ongoing issues for the beekeepers. Some adulterated honey has been detected in recent times. However, it doesn’t seem like the new legislation has had any part in this as it was possible to detect anyway.

With a testing suite at our disposal, overseas customers of honey produced here can be sure it’s the good stuff. Consumer laws in NZ already protect our local market from misleading claims and advertising while the new legislation on Manuka honey only affects honey for export. Unfortunately, we have very little control over what operators do overseas.

Do hobby beekeepers need to be licensed?

All hives and apiaries have to be registered. One reason is to help eliminate a disease called American Foul Brood (AFB). This is highly contagious and annual reporting has to be done and is a legal requirement.

Can hobby beekeepers sell their honey?

Yes, if the hives and honey has been harvested in compliance with Ministry for Primary Industries’ requirements, and also in the right extraction plants, they can sell their honey.

What can the average person do to ensure a brighter future for bees?

Great question. The best thing people can do is to plant plants which help feed the bees. People can go to treesforbeesnz.org for ideas. Nasty chemicals, which impact bees, should be avoided.

If you could be Minister of Conservation for a day what would you do first and why?

I’d probably be better in Primary Industry than Conservation. But if I was the conservation minister I would look into ensuring herbicides don’t impact the environment in a negative way and seek better solutions for users and the environment. I would look at ways to encourage diversity in plantings to minimise damage to our environment.