tee tree, manuka honey flower

Breeding Program for Manuka Plants Shows Promise

Maori landowners and specialized beekeepers are part of an important network dedicated to help facilitate the ambitious growth of both Manuka honey and Manuka oil. By building a sustainable production of both, chief executive of New Zealand Manuka, Phil Caskey, hopes to see continued success for the Manuka industry. His company, based out of Whakatane, has joined forces with Rotorua’s Scion to launch a breeding program containing 300,000 selected Manuka plants.

In an article posted on NZHerald.co.nz, it is explained that plans for the program include developing a 900ha plantation for Manuka honey and oil production that will reside on land in Te Kaha, Ruatoria, which is located on the East Cape. New Zealand Manuka was a finalist in the Bay of Plenty ExportNZ Awards and employs about 60 associates in the East Cape/Bay of Plenty area. “Getting in the finals is a definite achievement,” said Caskey, who is shareholder in the business along with his wife Sharan.

When it comes to competing with the Australian tea oil industry, the plantation approach is a must to ensure enough production to supply the medical and pharmaceutical markets. “We’ve been doing a lot of research into the antibacterial properties of Manuka oil, with very high levels of antimicrobial triketone compounds found in the East Cape area,” Caskey said. “We believe the opportunity is significant, with an antibacterial strength in the oil that is many hundreds of times stronger …”

With the drive to widen the Manuka industry growing, a unique opportunity for land owners has surfaced – they are able to take part in the Manuka plant plantation while also providing more local employment. This is especially important in more rural areas and helps to boost Zealand’s economy overall. New Zealand Manuka recent established a partnership and stake in Australian medical company Melcare Biomedical. This company produces honey-based medical products including throat, eye, and nose treatments as well as different types of wound care products.

“My wife and I established the first Manuka dedicated company in 1996, and worked with the University of Waikato through the late 1990s to develop a medical honey pathway,” said Caskey. By working with Professor Peter Molan, who founded the UMF scale of measuring Manuka honey, Caskey and his wife were able to develop the first registered Manuka honey medical device. “From a processing point of view, Melcare are really well set up,” Caskey said. “But we have kept our technologies here.”

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