Betta Bees Research Limited (BBRL) artificial insemination bee breeding programme is to be wound up after 18 years of operation.
The company evaluated beehives in a closed breeding programme by matching up desirable traits to gain genetic improvement in Italian honeybees.
One of the directors of Betta Bees Peter Bell of Mackenzie Country Honey, who was involved with the company for three years, said, “It’s a bit of a negative story because it’s coming to an end.
“But I’m hopeful that someone else will keep it going.
“When you have multiple shareholders you need a board and a general manager and BBRL never got to that point.
“Things don’t get done properly because people don’t have the time.
“It has had an impact on the bee industry.”
The company was started 18 years ago by a group of South Island beekeepers. They worked together to improve the New Zealand breed of bee and had become a nationwide company. Most of the beehives and equipment were donated at the start along with many hours of voluntary work.
The staff was employed to manage the beehives and do three insemination runs per year.
Shareholders paid an annual research levy which entitled them to three AI breeder queens to use in their own beekeeping businesses each year.
The programme made significant genetic gains in the early years. Queens were selected for desirable traits like honey production and temperament. But like any breeding programmes, the gains become less as it got closer to the perfect bee.
Over the years the company never reached a scale of being able to afford a general manager, resulting in directors being involved in both governance and management.
“There is a reason why it didn’t get more shareholders – back then BBRL thought it was too exclusive whereas they should have kept the share price really low,” said Bell.
“There was also a problem in that a shareholder paid $7500 per year and that entitled them to three queens but BBRL could have cut that down to smaller shareholdings and a levy for just one breeder – this would have included more people.
“But the more the shareholders, the more you have to keep them on board. So as time went by it made it harder because it spiraled down.
“We had staff and they used to communicate with shareholders but when we got rid of the staff that was no longer the case,” Bell said.
“It got to the point where everyone was relying on the other to do their voluntary stuff.”
A downturn in white and non-manuka honey prices and then manuka honey over the last four years put pressure on BBRL.
A number of shareholders stopped contributing to the research levy because of this downturn. Directors struggled to find time to do their demanding role or attract new directors onboard.
With not enough revenue to run the operation, in the winter of 2021, the hard decision was made to contract the operations to a private company for one year.
The board started a full tender process in the winter of 2022, for BBRL operation for a three-year contract term.
The board however was unable to receive a viable tender so with regret the directors of BBRL called for a special meeting to pass resolutions to put up for sale the assets and proceed with winding up the company.
- By Pat Deavoll