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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Honey shortage keeps prices high
A honeybee
Poor weather has left bees little time to forage

It should have been a sweet year for the UK's honey producers.

A continuing ban on imports of Chinese honey has meant the product is in short supply.

A really hot summer would have doubled production

Willie Robson
Bee farmer

But the bad weather has kept the bees in their hives and, at very best, the honey crop will be average.

In some parts of the country, the rain and low temperatures lasted so long that bees were starving.

No price falls for a year

To make things worse for people who want to buy honey, other countries are also suffering poor seasons, so the worldwide shortage of honey is continuing.

Honey in the UK
Consume 25,000 tonnes a year
Produce 1,200 tonnes a year
Chinese honey accounted for 30% of imports

That means that prices - which have already gone up sharply - will stay high or rise even further.

The big supermarkets still cannot get all the honey they would like.

Waitrose says it has suffered less than some competitors because of its wide range of speciality honeys.

But the retailer warns that prices are not likely to drop for at least another year.

No extra supplies

Waitrose says there is very little British honey available now but, because this is the main honey extracting time, supply should improve shortly.

A beekeeper in the apiary
Amateur beekeepers have six hives on average
In the UK, we consume 25,000 tonnes of honey a year, but produce only about 1,200 tonnes.

Ian Kirkwood runs Heather Hills Honey Farm, in Scotland, and has 1,300 hives. He's also chairman of the Bee Farmers' Association.

He says that when traces of antibiotics were found in Chinese honey and it was banned, UK producers really had no spare stocks to plug the gap.

And after a poor summer, they will have no extra supplies to put on the shelves in the next few weeks.

Local supplies

"A really hot summer would have doubled production," says Willie Robson, of Chain Bridge Honey Farm in Berwick-upon-Tweed

He says he will supply 300 local shops as usual, but will not have any more honey for other retailers.

Nor will he be putting up prices to take advantage of the shortage.

"I'm not keen on band wagons.

"We've kept our prices stable - a jar of honey is 2.65, the same as it was last year," he adds.

The best and worst

As well as the bee farmers, the UK has more than 9,000 amateur beekeepers who might each expect to produce an average of 120 lb (54.5 kg) of honey a year.

Claire Waring of the British Beekeepers' Association says that many of the members keep a few hives at the bottom of the garden and if they do sell their honey, they sell it directly to consumers or to local shops.

But, like the professional bee farmers, the amateurs have also suffered from the weather - although the pattern has been very different across the country.

Mrs Waring said that one beekeeper in Norfolk was heading for his worst year in 40 years of beekeeping while another in the Midlands was expecting a bumper crop.

Search for new supplies

Whatever happens to UK honey supplies, they will not have a great effect on the price of honey in general.

A swarm of bees
The world's bees cannot produce enough honey

The cost is rising because the world price for honey is increasing - in some cases it has doubled.

China was the world's biggest honey exporter and accounted for 30% of the UK's imported honey.

Importers have found it difficult to fill the gap - partly because Chinese honey has been banned by other countries so they, too, are also looking for new supplies.

All down to the weather

And bad summer weather is not confined to the UK.

The Honey Association - which represents the UK's honey importers - says crops in the US and Europe are not promising.

Latin America is another big exporter, but production has been less than expected - and new export duties imposed in Argentina have added to the problems.

Importers are now hoping that honey crops in Australia and New Zealand will be good.

The number of beehives has been increased in both countries - but the crop will still depend entirely on the weather.

See also:

12 Jul 02 | Business
05 Jul 02 | N Ireland
28 May 02 | England
13 Mar 02 | UK
19 Feb 02 | Health
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