Jason and Natasha Roebig with daughter Miranda Roebig have hundreds of beehives and produce a range of organic honey products. Photo: AAP Image/John Gass
Jason and Natasha Roebig with daughter Miranda Roebig have hundreds of beehives and produce a range of organic honey products. Photo: AAP Image/John Gass

All the buzz on the latest booming backyard trend

They started with two beehives in the backyard but now have hundreds spread across remote locations to meet demand for boutique honey and medicinal products.

Jason and Natasha Roebig's experiment began about five years ago when they were looking to cure their daughter's eczema.

The Jimboomba couple are not alone as Queensland beekeeper numbers continue to grow, producing hand-made products to an insatiable market.

According to research firm IBISWorld, global demand for Australian honey is expanding rapidly with natural honey exports to grow to $42 million this year, up from $29 million in 2013-14 as consumers look for natural alternatives to cane sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Senior analyst Nathan Cloutman says the demand, especially from Hong Kong, Singapore and China as well as domestically, has encouraged new independent beekeepers.

According to the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries there has been "significant growth" in the state's honey industry with production for 2017-18 valued at $40.08 million. In the same period, Queensland exported $12.6 million in honey products to 18 countries, mainly Canada, Hong Kong and China. Just three years ago the export figure was $5.3 million.

Jason Roebig says his family operation, Bee All Natural and Organic, which they work on at night and weekends while holding down jobs elsewhere, has sent products to the son of a Sultan and stocked the suitcases of a tourist from Singapore who arrived at the farm gate wanting loads of pristine local produce.

 

Jason and Natasha Roebig with daughter Miranda Roebig. Photo: AAP/John Gass
Jason and Natasha Roebig with daughter Miranda Roebig. Photo: AAP/John Gass

 

After starting in a bid to find a natural cure for their daughter's skin condition, they now have more than 300 hives and the product range stretches to lip balms, candles, body scrubs, furniture polish and, of course, the original skin cream created for daughter Miranda.

The business also produces about 15 tonnes of raw honey each year, and 10 tonnes of honey is bottled by hand by the couple on site.

"We started making batches of it for friends and family and it grew from there," Natasha Roebig says.

"People were loving our honey so we thought let's just keep doing this as a hobby and see how it goes and after time it's just become more and more popular and we've branched out to make other products."

With a heavy focus on organic practices, the hives are placed in remote, unspoilt bushland in sites stretching from Canungra to the Samford Valley.

"We source locations that are as natural and undisturbed as possible and they seem to love it," she says. "People are looking for that paddock-to-plate experience these days - they're not looking for huge operations that mass produce, they want to speak to the person producing it."

On the Sunshine Coast, Hum Honey has just taken out some serious national awards for its organic cold-pressed honey and sees huge potential too for its niche products.

 

Hum Honey bees on the farm.
Hum Honey bees on the farm.

 

The operation is based on 120ha at Peachester, near Beerwah. Owner Leisa Sams also started with a single hive six years ago, has 160 now and plans to grow that to about 600 along with a purpose-built facility to process and bottle the products to stringent organic export standards.

She says the rise in demand for her products is driven by customers seeking to know the providence of products and backstory of its producers.

"People are looking for authentic products made in Australia and they want to understand the story about where the product has come from," Sams says.

Beekeeper numbers across the state are also booming. According to Australian Honey Bee Industry Council executive director Trevor Weatherhead, hobbyists have a few hives in backyards to either boost pollination of vegie crops or perhaps make enough honey for themselves and friends.

Currently there are 4702 registered beekeepers in Queensland each with 50 hives or less. In 2013-14 there were just 2793. There are also currently 320 with more than 50 hives each, which is up from 305.

"A lot of people are taking up beekeeping as a hobby, with an increase in the last two or three years," Weatherhead says.

"Nationally, the value of honey bees is immense. Over $1 billion of Queensland crops rely on pollination from bees and nationally it is over $8 billion."