Honey prices continue to defy domestic market signals

Industry says the flow of fake honey into this country has reduced prices paid to producers and distorted honey market

From 2016-19, honey prices in Western Canada ranged from $1.25 to $1.65 per pound.

That’s significantly lower than 2014 and other periods in the early 2010s, when Canadian beekeepers received more than $2 per lb. for their honey.

The weak prices have been a challenge for prairie beekeepers because the cost of production (buying queens, miticides, labour, equipment) has continued to increase.

A study from Apimondia, a global forum for beekeepers, has concluded that the soft prices during this period (and in 2020) were bizarre and indicate that something is seriously wrong with the global honey market.

“The observed steady and dramatic collapse of honey prices defies the laws of economics,” says the report, prepared by the Apimondia Regional Commission of the Americas.

“In a context where the demand for honey has increased, the cost of production of authentic honey has increased and the productivity per hive has decreased, the prices of honey to beekeepers should have steadily and significantly risen. This did not happen, even though the prices at the retail level in the U.S. increased from USD14.60/kg in January 2015 to USD 17.15/kg in January 2019.”

It’s not just Canada where honey prices have been lower than expected.

Beekeepers in Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and other honey exporting countries of the Americas lost hundreds of millions in revenue from 2016-19 because of the artificially low prices.

The report pegged the losses at US$666 million to $1 billion.

Under the $666 million scenario, Argentine producers lost the most, about $357 million. Canadian beekeepers earned US$80 million less in sales, because of the weak prices.

The figures are best guesses because the “exact economic damage is obviously impossible to estimate,” the report says.

It’s easier to identify the factors behind the soft prices. Over the last decade, the major honey exporters of the Americas (including Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico) increased exports by only 6.5 percent.

Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the world, countries like China, India, Ukraine, Vietnam and Taiwan increased their exports by 96 percent.

That makes no sense because it’s difficult to boost bee colony numbers and honey production in a year or two.

It suggests those nations are producing fake honey or exporting honey-like products originally produced in China. Fake honey is made by adding corn syrup, rice syrup or another sweetener to genuine honey.

A Nature report, from 2018, found that 50 percent of Asian honey samples were adulterated.

“It’s laughable. Little countries like Myanmar or Taiwan … for 20 years half a million pounds (of honey) gets exported,” said Chris Hiatt, a North Dakota beekeeper in 2018. “(Then) overnight (it’s) five or 10 million lb. That’s absolutely impossible.”

The jump in “dubious” honey exports from Asian nations distorted prices in Western Canada and elsewhere, the Apimondia report said.

The good news for Canadian honey producers is that the United States is taking steps to crack down on fake honey. The U.S. is the largest importer of honey in the world and in April, the American Honey Producers Association reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection now has funds for NMR testing equipment to detect fake honey.

NMR stands for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy. The technology can test the purity of a sample.

“A lot of it’s on the horizon. They’re talking about doing more testing,” said Curtis Miedema, a honey producer from Barrhead, Alta.

In the meantime, the price of honey in Western Canada is up from 2019. Last summer, Miedema was getting offers of $1.55-$1.65 per lb. for honey. This summer, it’s closer to $1.80 per lb.

“It’s headed in the right direction,” he said. “There are rumours of $2 but we’re not there yet.”

Prices are up, partly because 2019 was a poor year for honey production in Canada.

Overall production was down 15.4 percent, compared to 2018. Alberta, the leading honey producing province, generated only 25 million lb. — its lowest level since 2000.

“I think the inventories are really low, from what I can tell,” Miedema said.

“I don’t think anybody is sitting on any honey.”

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