Bee Farmer Open Day 2022
Posted on 6th January 2023 at 16:41
This piece is a review of the 2022 Bee Farmers Open Day, suppliers event and Annual General Meeting (AGM).
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David McDowell reports on proceedings at the Bee Farm Open Day, Suppliers’ Event and Annual General Meeting (AGM)
The 2022 Bee Farm Open Day, Suppliers’ Event and Annual General Meeting (AGM) was a much anticipated affair. The event was hosted by Viktor and Lucy Zaichenko – Honeymakers – in North Oxfordshire. The central location was to be a big draw. Every part of the United Kingdom (UK) was represented, from Kent to Cumbria, Cornwall to Northumberland, plus a few attendees from Scotland (others were still busy bringing in their heather honey harvest). Wales was strongly represented and one member had made the trip over from Ireland. Together with the European equipment suppliers, it was an international affair.
The Evening Before
Many delegates stayed at Wroxton House Hotel on the evening before the event, providing an opportunity to meet up with others. Wroxton House is as picture postcard-perfect as can be, thatched and low beamed, built (as is most of the village centre) with honey coloured stone, for which the Cotswolds is famous. The evening was a chance to make new acquaintances and to discover their stories. Discussions went on late into the night.
Two enduring features of the bee farming community are the camaraderie and the sharing of knowledge. A couple who might be finding their way with a new venture can easily mix and draw on the experience of colleagues with established, large-scale bee farming businesses, without being looked down upon.
Next day, after a decent breakfast, it was a short drive through the narrow lanes of the Cotswolds countryside to the location of the day’s proceedings.
The Day Itself
One-hundred-and-fifty bee farmers attended the event which began at 10.00 am with tea, coffee and a catch up with old friends not seen since the previous year’s event at Quince Honey Farm, Devon. The car park at a bee farmers’ event always contains an eclectic mix of flat-bed transits, an assortment of four-wheel-drive trucks, and vans large and small, with or without signwriting. It has the look of a travelling fair.
The itinerary for the day was as follows: AGM, followed by a presentation from Viktor and then lunch. After lunch, we were left to our own devices to tour facilities, to talk to Viktor and Lucy’s team, and to visit the stands of the equipment suppliers who had kindly agreed to attend the event.
The meeting and talk was held in a long, spacious carpentry workshop. As we were told, despite Viktor’s many attempts at rebranding the workshop, it would always be known as the ‘chicken shed’ – for that was its previous incarnation. The presentation took us through how the business was started and how it developed. As with any business, Viktor has had to face his fair share of setbacks, and global events have caused a re-evaluation of the direction of the business. Underlying the business is Viktor and Lucy’s strength and dedication to the tasks required, and their enviable skills. Trade is largely business to business (B2B), with a small proportion of direct sales. We were amazed to learn that, at times, Viktor has managed his 1,500 colonies (a mix of production colonies and nuclei) largely by himself, with the aid of his truck mounted Easyloader. Fortunately, he is able to draw on some help at peak times. The other part of the business, connected with the honey processing, is looked after by his colleague, David. Honeymakers has recently achieved Safe and Local Supplier Accreditation (SALSA) and the team are rightly proud of that status.
Viktor’s talk moved to a more serious topic – Viktor is from Ukraine. We were appraised of his fundraising campaign to help his Ukrainian friends and family (www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/viktor-zaichenko). In essence, what was required was four-wheel-drive pick-ups to move people from danger areas. Viktor received support from his farming neighbours, in particular those at Diddly Squat farm, and raised over £50,000. As well as sourcing the vehicles, Viktor and Lucy raised funds to fill them each with essential items. Viktor and his volunteers drove the loaded vehicles to the Ukrainian border to hand them over to his friends. This effort split his energies in 2022, but a relatively easy summer by beekeeping standards eased the pressure.
Talk over, we walked back to the main building in search of lunch, provided by Spitting Pig. We were treated to delicious spit-roasted pulled pork with options of stewed apple and stuffing as well as side orders of salad and chips. There was a vegetarian option of halloumi kebabs. The tail end of the queue endured a violent rain shower to gain their lunch. The rest of the delegates sheltered in the spacious complex of the main production facility.
Whilst waiting in the queue and at lunch, there was much talk of bee and business-related matters: How was your crop? Did you experience CBPV (chronic bee paralysis virus)? Have you treated for varroa yet? Are you finding new crops? There was also much interest in each other’s developments over the summer.
Replete with a hearty lunch and with the rain abated, we set off to explore buildings and facilities.
David was on hand to talk about their journey to SALSA accreditation and the investment they had made in the facilities, together with the adoption of enhanced ways of working. There was a great deal of interest in the concept of SALSA. The honey store stacked to the roof with pallets of drums filled with this year’s honey crop was impressive, as was the warehouse area which housed supers and hive components, wrapped against wax moth and ready for next season.
The open day also provided an opportunity for bee farmers to look over the latest equipment and products from UK and European suppliers. The Bee Farmers’ Association (BFA) benefits from a strong relationship with the European equipment manufacturers, Swienty, Carl Fritz and Thomas Apiculture, along with UK-based jar suppliers Rawlings Compak and bee health product suppliers
Vita-Europe and Andermatt. Association members Abelo, Modern Beekeeping and Wyefield Apiaries also attended with stands. Forward-thinking bee farmers were able to collect long awaited purchases from our European colleagues. Alas, I was not one of them, but I placed an order with Abelo and expect to take delivery within a month.
Common themes in discussions taking place throughout the day were: the sustained level of retail sales of honey, despite some of the large bulk customers not currently buying; wholesale and retail prices for honey; a universally reported good harvest (for some all crop was obtained within a very short period); increased acreages of oilseed rape (OSR) being sown, no doubt driven by the situation in Ukraine and the rise in the crop’s value per tonne.
A topic of the moment was the colossal amount of ivy honey going into the hives. Ivy honey is rather unpleasant to the palates of many. Some view it as beneficial in reducing the need for autumn feeding of colonies, but conversely there are downsides – impact on room for the queen to lay and crystallisation in the comb, with the bees then unable to make use of the stores as spring approaches.
The usual business issues were discussed relating to the rising costs of materials, jars, fuel, feed and equipment. Although the economic background picture is a little gloomy at the moment, sentiments were upbeat amongst the bee farmers with whom I spoke. This positive outlook was also reflected in the amount of shiny new machinery that was being collected on the day.
As is often written in the pages of this magazine: ‘There is always next season to look forward to’.
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