Updated 1 March 2016 at 4:31 am
First posted 1 March 2016 at 3:11 am
A bee pollinates a tea tree flower.
A honey bee pollinates the flower of New Zealand tea tree variety Leptospermum scoparium, which makes manuka honey. (Supplied: Paul Callander)
Tea tree trials in the south-west of Western Australia could lead to a lucrative local manuka honey industry.
Highly sought after for its anti-bacterial properties, manuka honey is made from the pollen of the New Zealand tea tree, Leptospermum scoparium.
A Perth group hopes tea tree trials lead to manuka honey success ( ABC News )
In some parts of the country researchers are looking at how Australian tea tree species could be used in the production of manuka.
But a Perth group said it believed its best hopes for success in the manuka market was to recreate the product made from the original New Zealand species Leptospermum tree.
Due to its antibacterial properties, manuka honey is worth between $40/kilo and $100/kilo, much more than the standard price of $5.50/kilo for West Australian honey.
Great potential for industry
Perth businessman Paul Callander has imported Leptospermum seed varieties from the north island of New Zealand into Western Australia.
Mr Callander and his colleagues are growing one million trees in a Manjimup nursery in the south-west of the state.
He said if he could work out how to grow the trees successfully, there was great potential for the establishment of a WA manuka honey industry.
“We’re in the process of planting those out in June of this year,” he said.
"In parallel we’re working closely with the universities to try and build a database of all [Australian and New Zealand] Leptospermum varieties around.
“We’re looking to partner with the bee industry to grow a really sustainable population.”
Rabbits and roos leave trees alone
Consultant Tony Woods is working with Mr Callander to establish the tea tree population.
Mr Woods believed the trees were suited to the soil types and environment, just like Australian tea tree varieties.
It won’t come tomorrow, but we’re willing to work for the next few years, and if we can get it right, I think it will be really beneficial.
Brendan Fewster, beekeeper
But he said there was still a lot of work to be done in the trials.
“We’ve had a lot of rabbits and a lot of roos out there and they’ve left it alone,” he said.
"And we’re hoping out of those trials, as well as other trials from all over New Zealand, we’ll be able to start to select the right varieties.
“Some of the varieties are from coastal varieties, and some are from salty country, some of them are from wet country and some from dry country.”
Mr Woods said he was still unsure of how the trees would “translate” into the Western Australian environment.
Apiarists excited about Manuka potential
Beekeeper Brendan Fewster said if the plants did grow and flower successfully, the manuka industry could be a goldmine for local honey producers.
Mr Fewster believed there was huge potential for manuka honey production in WA.
“It’s sort of only in vogue in the past three or four years where there’s been more interest in ‘active honey’,” he said.
“It won’t come tomorrow, but we’re willing to work for the next few years, and if we can get it right, I think it will be really beneficial.”
Mr Fewster said Western Australia could also capitalise on its reputation for having some of the healthiest bees in the world.
He said that would make WA a successful competitor to the original New Zealand manuka product.
“While we [are] clean green, antibiotic and chemical free in our hives, while we’ve got that we’ve got to really run with that,” he said.
“I think we could get above most other places, purely because of the cleanness of our product.”