Rob and Kristy Waddell are growing the plants that create it in their Grand Ridge Propagation Nursery at Seaview, in West Gippsland.
Demand for Manuka honey has grown exponentially in recent years, as it has been found to have the potential to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria in wounds, such as Golden staphylococcus.
Mr Waddell heard about the honey by word of mouth and decided to do some research.
In the past 12 months, the Waddells have grown about 35,000 bio-active tea trees, known as Leptospermum plants in their nursery.
“When the plants are flowering, they produce nectar, and the bees take that nectar back to the hive and make it into honey,” Mr Waddell said.
“When the honey is extracted, you can test it for its Dihydroxyacetone (DHA) levels, and over a period of about 12 to 18 months.
“The DHA is converted to Methylglyoxal, which is the active ingredient that kills the bacteria in wounds.”
Mr Waddell sells the plants to beekeepers and landholders, who are looking to increase income.
“Globally, demand for the honey is growing, and the price is going up accordingly,” he said.
“Regular honey usually sells for $5 to $10 per kilogram, whereas it’s not unusual for Manuka honey to sell for $40 to $100/kg, and sometimes even $100-plus.
“It’s being used globally as an alternative medical dressing or wound treatment product.
“And we’re producing tested seedlings so beekeepers can harvest the honey and make the profits.”
He said the plants were adaptable to different climates.
“They’re very versatile, and can withstand a wide range of climates and soil types,” he said.
“But they’re not a desert plant, so they do require a certain amount of moisture, so inland areas might need some irrigation.”
He said it took six to seven years for the plants to reach their peak production period. “The recommended planting density is 1150 plants per hectare, with a three-metre spacing,” he said.
“They grow about 3m or 4m tall, and generally start flowering after three to four years, and have a lifespan of 30.”
Mr Waddell has had interest from local beekeepers and landholders, as well as interstate for his Manuka honey-producing trees.
“There’s been interest from all over the country, but NSW and Victoria have been the main states,” he said.
“There’s potential for landholders who don’t have bees to go into a profit-sharing arrangement with beekeepers as a share farming type agreement.
“We’re looking at it being a way for honey producers, and anyone else, in increasing their profit margins.”
He is working with a Queensland university to further develop the scientific knowledge of the Manuka trees.
“We are involved in a testing program in conjunction with the University of the Sunshine Coast, with the aim to try and find the highest activity tea trees in the country, and run a selective breeding program around them,” he said.
“We’re involved in the testing of the nectar, so at this stage, we’re growing multiple species.”