Honey bees have been kept in New Zealand for over 150 years. In that time, beekeeping has moved from being a home craft to a progressive industry. New Zealand is now recognised as one of the world's most advanced beekeeping countries, and is a leader in several important fields.
The first honey bees were brought to New Zealand by English missionaries. The earliest record of a successful shipment was of two basket hives of bees which arrived in Northland in 1839. Many other importations soon followed and beekeeping became a popular pastime with settlers. The first New Zealand beekeeping book was published in 1848.
The original stocks of bees brought to the country were the Northern European black strain. They were kept in traditional straw skeps or wooden boxes with frames. Around 1880, the first stocks of the yellow Italian strain were imported. They, along with movable frame "Langstroth" hives, provided the foundation for modern commercial beekeeping development.
American foulbrood was also accidentally imported in some of the original bee stocks, and by the 1880's had become established in many hives. The fixed frame hives in common use at the time meant that combs could not easily be inspected for the disease, and beekeeping was greatly affected in many parts of the country.
Isaac Hopkins, a prominent commercial beekeeper, campaigned for bee disease control legislation in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, and in 1905 was appointed as the Government Apiarist. Shortly after, the first Apiaries Act was passed. The act made the keeping of fixed frame hives illegal and introduced measures to control American Foulbrood. The New Zealand act was one of the first modern bee disease control laws anywhere in the world and, along with a concerted campaign to reduce the incidence of the disease, helped to make the commercial keeping of bees in New Zealand a viable farming activity.
Following the First World War, beekeeping increased rapidly as more land was developed and returned servicemen were trained as beekeepers. Hive numbers doubled to nearly 100,000 by the end of the 1920's.
Because honey crops are extremely variable, marketing organisations where used in the 1930's in an attempt to stabilise prices. By 1938, much of the New Zealand crop was being sold to the Internal Marketing Division, a government agency.
Beekeeping increased again after the Second World War, and by 1950 some 7,000 beekeepers were keeping over 150,000 hives. In 1955, the Honey Marketing Authority took over the Internal Marketing Division's activities, and for the next 25 years was for all intents and purposes the sole exporter of extracted honey produced in New Zealand.
The late 1970's and early 1980's saw large changes occur in the beekeeping industry. The Honey Marketing Authority ceased operations, and private individuals and companies began exporting New Zealand honey products. The numbers of hives increased by over 40%, to 335,000, spurred on by the demand for paid pollination services. The range of exports also grew, and began to include many different types of honeys, as well as live bees.
The industry has been affected by significant changes in government policy and legislation. In 1991, the government announced that it would no longer fund the endemic honey bee disease programme, thus ending taxpayer support for a service which had been in continuous existence since 1908. The industry made the decision to fund American foulbrood control from its resources, and funded contracts to provide disease control services.
Further enactments, including the Biosecurity Act and the Commodities Levy Act, affected the way the beekeeping industry coordinated its activities. The industry was able to seek a commodity levy to replace the hive levy to fund the National Beekeepers' Association. This subsequently became redundant and membership of the NBA again voluntary.
An order made under the Biosecurity Act enabled the development a pest management strategy to control American Foulbrood.
The NBA was restructured in 2005 and formed an Executive Council from eight elected regional Ward representatives.