Historic: Christchurch beekeeping conferences...

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BOP Club
In several weeks time, I’ll be attending a national beekeepers’ conference in Christchurch.

ApicultureNZ (ApiNZ) will hold its annual conference of beekeepers at the end of June at Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre. It is just over 100 years since the national beekeeping organisation first held a Christchurch beekeeping conference.

The National Beekeepers’ Assn existed for just over 100 years - from 1913 to 2016 - before it became part of ApicultureNZ, bringing a range of industry interests into one organisation. During that time, the conference was in Christchurch a total of 11 times.

The first time was in 1920, with the conference being held in the YMCA Concert Hall. Walter Watson, from Geraldine, was NBA President - he was in later years to figure prominently through his involvement with NZ Honey Ltd, a major marketing company backed by Percy Hillary (Sir Ed’s father) and others.

The NZ Honey Producers’ Assn dominated the industry through the 1920s, with a lot of support from the commercial producers of honey. Conferences in Christchurch - first in 1920, then in 1924, 1927 and 1931 were dominated with discussions about the need to both increase local consumption of honey, but also ensure enough honey was exported to keep a stable local market.

Sadly, the HPA failed as a longer term stabilising influence on the price of honey, failing in about 1932. Christchurch did not host any conferences for another 15 years.

It was during this 15 year period that NZ Honey Ltd became a force, and then failed, having lost the confidence of beekeepers in the middle 1930s.

The 1945 NBA Conference was held in the immediate post-war period.

The 1944 Conference had been cancelled - the only time the NBA failed to hold its annual conference - due to war time travel restrictions. Beekeepers travelling to Christchurch in 1945 were keen ‘shape’ the honey marketing for the future. The 1940s had seen strict government control, with threats to ‘commandeer’ up to 70% of honey production, to be managed by the Internal Marketing Division. The argument was that the IMD needed a guaranteed supply of honey to meet the requirements of the military and for post-war Britain.

While the industry had put up with some harsh treatment through the war years, it was felt that now was the time to return to a voluntary supply of honey to the Internal Marketing Division by producers. Beekeepers were keen to achieve the best returns they could.

The conference was held in the old Provincial Council Chambers, now gone. ‘Wilf’ Lennon, the magazine editor (and also the NBA Vice President), referred to two design features of the famous old building - the hand of the worker, and the hand of the scholar. Together, they could work to build a sound structure. Lennon raised the parallel with the industry, faced with virtually a blank sheet, being able to design a marketing future, and needing to make use of all the skills available to build a new marketing strategy for honey.

Ted Field, as NBA President, presided at the conference. Field, from Foxton, was to be NBA President for 11 years, the longest anyone ever served in that role. And he also served as Vice President for an additional 6 years. That is a phenomenal amount of service to the beekeeping industry - and at the time he ran this 1945 NBA conference, he was not yet 35 years old, and had been an NBA office holder for 8 years already…

And as Ted Field declared the Conference was closed, the old Provincial Council Chambers building shook with the force of 90 mph winds, a storm that was to leave 7 inches of snow overnight. I grew up with mph and inches, but I’ll translate - that was 145 kpm wind, and about 18cm of show!

Some thought the shaking to be an earthquake, brought on by the nearly unprecedented changing of some of the NBA rules immediately before!

About 20 beekeepers braved the weather the next morning to visit Tom Penrose’s Southbridge apiary by bus. Tom’s son David, now 90 years old, remembers the snow cover over the Canterbury Plains. Heavy snow on the roads and lack of time meant no visit to Tom Pearson’s apiary at Darfield, or the neary Leeston apiary of W.B. ‘Billy’ Bray, both of which were to be part of the post-conference visits.

As it turned out, it was 8 years before the approach to marketing that was discussed at that conference would come into being - the Honey Marketing Authority in 1954. In the intervening years there were arguments over the Seal’s Levy and ‘industry franchise’ - who should be allowed to vote and who should be allowed to be nominated for the marketing body.

There were Christchurch conferences for the NBA in 1951 and again in 1967. The 1951 conference was held, again, in the Provincial Council Chambers building, the NBA’s last conference there. By 1967, the conference was in the Guide’s Hall, quite a come down from the Chambers building…

And then in 1979, 34 years after the conference in 1945 that ‘set the scene’ for the creation of the Honey Marketing Authority, beekeepers were in Christchurch again. This time with a goal of getting rid of that same Honey Marketing Authority and its strict control of the export market. Attitudes were often entrenched, often by family or geography or history, about the support or opposition to the HMA.

The 1979 conference, led by NBA President Mike Stuckey (Auckland), gave the industry an excellent opportunity to discuss the issues and fully understand their consequences. Paul Marshall (Hawkes Bay) was elected President at the Christchurch conference, and he was exemplary in ensuring the discussions in the months following the conference occurred in a fair, consistent and moderate manner. The HMA ceased to trade only a short time later.

That 1979 conference, and its outcome, was probably the more significant conference in the last 50 years or so - and it happened in Christchurch.

The 1987 Christchurch conference was memorable for me - we had our 6 month old daughter along with us for her first NBA conference. President Allen McCaw, from Milton Otago, ran an NBA conference for the first time, having been elected president the previous year in Rotorua.

And then the 1995 NBA Conference in Christchurch - I was the NBA President! The industry faced the issues of ‘user pays’, especially for such services as the apicultural advisory service. As well, the new Biosecurity Act signaled major changes for disease control for beekeeping, changes still existing today… And the NBA was compelled to seek - and achieve - a levy using the Commodity Levies system. The NBA Vice President, Richard Bensemann, gave me both wise counsel and a tour of the (relatively new) casino…

I’ll be coming down to Christchurch to see my beekeeper friends again soon. As always, it will be the middle of winter (when the bees require the least amount of hands on work). I have mixed feelings about whether I would want 7 inches of snow to fall while I am there. We’ll be in our caravan!
Hawkes Bay
I'm going. I like to think the main reason I am going is to catch up on the science but catching up with old friends is also well up there in reasons to go.
Mid Canterbury
Semi Commercial
I’ll be coming down to Christchurch to see my beekeeper friends again soon. As always, it will be the middle of winter (when the bees require the least amount of hands on work). I have mixed feelings about whether I would want 7 inches of snow to fall while I am there. We’ll be in our caravan!
Shouldn't be a prob getting a campsite in the CBD. There are plenty of vacant sections! haha