European honey producers feel the sting with “worst harvest in decades”

20 November 2020


2020 has marked a new negative record for European honey producers with a 40 percent decrease from the year previous in honey harvests. According to producers, the market will not be compensated by a rise in market prices. Generally, EU producers will only provide 40 percent of the honey placed within the EU market.

“Normally, beekeepers face good seasons along with bad seasons. Overall, the average season gives the beekeeper a sufficient living,” Etienne Bruneau, Chairman of Copa-Cogeca’s Honey Working Party, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.

However, when beekeepers have to deal with three bad seasons in a row, it becomes challenging for them. They may struggle to pay back investments made in past years, for example.

“Therefore, it is important that authorities support beekeepers because the market cannot help them,” adds Bruneau.

According to him, the COVID-19 crisis has not impacted the demand for honey. However, he says that the Copa-Cogeca Honey Working Party has registered “small increases in the selling of other products related to honey, such as propolis and royal jelly in some areas in the EU.”

Catching up with demand

With the EU importing 40 percent of global honey, the substantial drop in the production will cause it to import even more honey than before to catch up with European demand.

“Increasing imports of cheap and low-quality honey will decrease the price, which will undermine even more beekeepers – even more so than a bad season,” Bruneau adds.

Climate conditions

Tense climate conditions have led to a reduction of flowering periods in most EU countries. This marks a new blow for a sector that suffers from profound and structural market distortions, as evidenced by the markets’ volatility despite the low volumes produced.

Because of heavy rain and floods in Central and Eastern Europe and a major drought in July, the situation observed by European beekeepers has never shown such substantial disparities across Member States. As primary producers are located in Eastern and Southern Europe, the Copa and Cogeca Honey Working Party expects an unprecedented drop in production with the near absence of specific honey from these regions, such as acacia honey.

In Hungary alone, the acacia crop was only 10 percent of the average harvest, and the harvest of all flowers was around 30 percent compared to that of normal quantities. In Austria, the professionals claim such bad harvests have not been registered in decades. Very consistent drops were registered in Portugal (-80 percent) and Italy (in the South, between -70 percent and -80 percent).

Hanging in the balance

While Europe is in an under-production capacity, such low yields could raise prices. The honey prices in the main importing countries keep falling. Also, without proper tools, beekeepers’ future is in danger.

The absence of a strong origin labeling and the adulteration of honey represents two significant threats to which European legislators have to take serious measures.

“Last year, we already sounded the alarm by asking the European Commission to set up an emergency action plan. It is clear that the situation is getting worse,” warns Bruneau.

“People need to understand that we are currently talking about the survival of 10 million hives in the EU. Ten million hives enable 650,000 beekeepers to make a living, millions of farmers to pollinate their crops, and everyone to benefit from bees’ ecosystem services. This situation is therefore threatening well beyond the stakes of our sector,” he stresses.

“The Common Agriculture Policy of the European Union fights against the detrimental effects of volatility on the market of animal products such as milk or meat,” Bruneau continues.

“There is an urgent need for such risk management and promotion measures for European products to be put in place for the sector in the same way as the indication of origin for honey products and stricter controls from import from third countries,” he concludes.

Published by on November 6th, 2020


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