Growing up on a dairy farm in the Wairarapa, bees were the furthest things from Grant Engel’s mind.
Now, they’re his livelihood and the inspiration for his business.
Engel is the brains behind Revolutionary Beekeeping, a mobile stainless steel harvester that enables beekeepers to extract honey straight from the hive, instead of the more traditional method of transporting frames from hives to an off-site processor.
As a child, Engel visited Fieldays and was inspired by the agricultural inventions and new technology on show. He decided that when he grew up he’d someday return with an invention of his own.
Years later, after moving from Wairarapa to a dairy farm in sunny Kerikeri, Northland, Engel couldn’t help but notice the region’s focus on bees and honey.
He started dabbling in beekeeping, and got to thinking. “I realised that taking honey away from the hive and processing it was much like getting a dairy cow and driving it to a shared facility where it was milked and then taking it back to site – it didn’t make a lot of sense. I thought I could come up with something different.”
Engel did come up with something – an idea for a device for beekeepers that enabled them to harvest honey by putting each hive frame through a machine quickly to extract honey, right next to the hive. Harvesting honey on-site also removes the risk of spreading disease between hives, something that has been a risk for honey harvesters over the years.
With a prototype under his arm, Engel entered the Fieldays Innovation Awards in 2013, in the Launch NZ category for products ready for commercialisation and launch to the New Zealand market .
“I’d been following Fieldays’ innovations for a long time; the Innovations Centre was always my first stop when I went to Fieldays, and I wanted to enter something so I could be on stage alongside all the other innovations that had inspired me. It was the culmination of my childhood dream.”
The Fieldays Innovation Awards showcase the latest developments in the agricultural industry that will shape the future of farming and primary industries in New Zealand. The categories range from grassroots innovations through to small-to-medium business product launches and international agribusiness innovations.
“A lot of the innovations I had been seeing were generally focused on traditional agriculture, so I thought something to do with beekeeping would be a bit left-field and new. There wasn’t much out there at the time that really looked at time-saving technology or innovation for beekeeping and honey.”
The market must have been ready, because Engel’s innovation went on to win the Launch NZ category.
“Being able to launch the product at Fieldays put us on a platform. It allowed a lot of people to see our product, and ultimately winning the award really took the business to the next level.”
Engel reckons the key to success with innovation is being passionate about what you do.
“I wanted to find a solution to a common problem – I knew we couldn’t keep doing things the way we were just because that was the way it had always been done.
“Even looking at the last 10 years, so much has changed in the honey industry. Our hives have just about doubled and biosecurity is much more of an issue. As an industry, we need to be constantly re-visiting and re-evaluating what we’re doing to make sure we’re protecting our food producers and the sustainability of our products for generations to come.”
This is an approach that’s worked well for Engel, and since 2015 Revolutionary Beekeeping has taken off. The business has hives and beekeepers across the country, from Northland to Canterbury, with support from big agribusiness organisations including Landcorp and sustainable dairy farming fund Southern Pastures. It has also expanded into collecting and brokering honey directly from commercial beekeepers, enabling them to make profit from their honey.
Engel says the success of Revolutionary Beekeeping is largely down to the fact that they’re on the same wavelength as their customers. “They want beekeeping that protects the health and sustainability of bees, and so do we. That’s really important to us.”
Engel is also passing his passion on to the next generation of sustainable beekeeper, to daughters Isla, eight, and Belle, five. “They’re really curious and interested. They have a hive each and little beekeeping suits, and they’re always saving bees inside and letting them out.
“Their favourite is honey on toast, that’s our daily ritual. It’s really nice they have that appreciation of where honey comes from.”
Fieldays CEO Peter Nation says Engels story is one that resonates with him.
“So many families and young children attend Fieldays every year, and you see them walking wide-eyed through the Innovations Centre,” says Nation. “It’s fantastic to think that Fieldays is inspiring the next generation of inventors, and who knows what innovative products and new technology the Fieldays experience will spark in the future. Like Grant Engel, we expect that in a few decades’ time, those kids in gumboots at Fieldays will be the same ones showcasing an invention that could change the face of our industry.”
Nation says that the story of Revolutionary Beekeeping is an inspiring one, not only as an invention, but in terms of the food story it tells. “There is a lot of public interest in the story behind our food, from paddock to plate, and it’s time for agribusiness to tell that story,” says Nation. “Our Kitchen Theatre at Fieldays is designed to showcase New Zealand produce and food, from a variety of sources, with guest chefs cooking in front of Fieldays visitors. The Pantry Marquee has primary production products for people to buy – from honey to artisan meats to speciality cheeses, condiments and drinks – which also helps tell that farm gate to dinner plate story.”
Engel’s story will debut as a 30-second television commercial during Country Calendar on TVNZ 1 this Sunday May 27 from 7pm. A longer version of Engel’s story is available in the new documentary box set Fieldays Stories, available on TVNZ OnDemand (TVNZ.co.nz).
Fieldays anniversary event: What will you find? – Kerikeri, June 2
An event will be held in Kerikeri on Saturday June 2 from 12pm to celebrate Engel’s story, and to bring the Northland community together to celebrate Fieldays’ 50th anniversary.
The event will feature a free sausage sizzle, family-friendly activities and games and the event will be MC-ed by radio host Jamie Mackay from The Country Show. Doug Avery, author of The Resilient Farmer will also be speaking at the event at 1.15pm. This is the third in a series of events happening across the country in the build up to Fieldays on 13 June.
Fieldays marketing manager Taryn Storey says they’re looking forward to welcoming the Kerikeri community and surrounding areas to the event.
“Fieldays is a national event that means a lot to people all over New Zealand, and this is a chance for people to come and share their memories of Fieldays and share their stories about farming life,” says Storey. “It’s also a chance for the rural community to get together, catch up with old friends and neighbours and have some fun.”
The first event was held in Winton, Southland on 19 May, and remaining events are being held in Feilding, Te Puke and Hamilton in the lead up to Fieldays on June 13.