NSW Beekeeping Industry – 2020 economic report

bee hives

NSW Performance Data and Insights 2020

The NSW Primary Industries Performance Data & Insights (PDI) highlights the economic output of the NSW Primary Industries sector each financial year. It reflects the underlying strength and long-term viability of primary industry sectors including beekeeping. 2020 marked the first in-depth look into honey and beeswax production in NSW.  The full report is available here: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/about-us/publications/pdi/2020/honey-and-beeswax   

Output (honey and beeswax sales) was $57 million, estimated down 12% year on year. Production was significantly impacted by drought and bushfires during 2019-2020.

Essentially landless farmers, beekeepers must move their honey bee livestock from agistment on one source of flowering tree, shrub, crop or ground flora to another as they become available. Whilst bees gain some of their requirements from flowering crops at certain times of the year, they are also heavily reliant on access to native flora, especially eucalypts, for most of the year.  Apiarists are large users of public land for these purposes. 

Initially the widespread east coast drought severely impacted the floral resource base. Compounding the impacts of drought, bushfires in the middle of the year impacted 43% of the available public NSW apiary ranges in State Forests and 35% of National Park’s apiary sites. 

Unlike traditional livestock producers, apiarists cannot destock or sell enough of their hives when traditional food sources are not available. Livestock producers like cattle and sheep farmers utilise this destocking technique during drought periods after calculating that it is cheaper to sell off some of their stock than continue to buy in feed. Unless supplementary food is provided during prolonged drought and severe bushfires, the bees will die. Consequently, lower production and higher feed costs significantly impacted apiarists’ profitability.

Honey production is estimated to have fallen 30%. This was partially offset by an estimated price increase of 18% (129). The importance of bees to agriculture is much greater than the value of honey and beeswax produced. At least 35 crops (including almonds, avocados, cherries, apples and berries) rely on bees for pollination for their own production.  Without honey bee pollination, crop yields would be significantly reduced. The value of pollination was not considered in the report.


The value of Australian honey and beeswax exports increased 12% to $59.5 million (94) during 2019-20. Exports from NSW declined 6% to $9.5 million. The largest market for Australian exports is China (30%) followed by the United States (13%). Both Australia and NSW were also significant importers of honey and beeswax, primarily from New Zealand (65%) but also from China (23%). In 2019-20 imports decreased 10% to $58 million. China is both a large buyer of Australian honey and supplier of cheaper honey. Australia has traditionally been a net exporter of honey and beeswax however, a surge in cheaper imports from China from 2015 meant Australia became a net importer. For 2019-20 Australia again became a net exporter primarily due to a 51% increase in exports to China.


The compounding impact of drought and fire during 2019-20 severely impacted NSW apiarists. Even with rain, industry recovery will take longer than other livestock sectors as trees don’t produce nectar and pollen immediately.  Some trees will take many years to recover from burning and/or drought. Bushfires have also reduced the number of apiary sites available on public land. 

Given the financial strain on the industry, and the importance of honey bees and pollination services to other industries, in particular horticulture, the NSW Government offered a subsidy during the year to assist apiarists feed their hives and maintain the honey bee population. Nevertheless, production is expected to decline further for the 2020-21 season. Over the longer term, increasing demand for pollination services from horticulture, primarily from almond growers, is expected to support industry growth.

Statewide and national production data on honey, beeswax and queens should be made publicly available on an annual basis. Primary industries’ production history as reported annually in NSW Primary Industries Performance Data & Insights underpins the making of policy, government assistance planning and is a reference document for the banking sector and others. Annual access to industry production data is incredibly valuable to commercial beekeepers’ interests.


  • 94 IHS Global Trade Atlas (GTA) (2020). Last accessed September 2020.
  • 129 The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) (2019). Honey prices to climb as supply dries up, November 2019.


This article was peer-reviewed by Nadine Chapman and Ruth Luckner.

No votes yet.
Please wait...
Share this:

Leave a comment