The history of honey marketing in new zealand
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The History of Honey Marketing in New Zealand. Prepared and presented by Nick Wallingford. What can we learn from history?. Maybe not a lot, but who knows? … Recognise some of the trends, the repeating charteristics Appreciate the features that seem to ‘act’ upon the industry

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The History of Honey Marketing in New Zealand

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The History of Honey Marketing in New Zealand

Prepared and presented by

Nick Wallingford

What can we learn from history?

  • Maybe not a lot, but who knows? …

  • Recognise some of the trends, the repeating charteristics

  • Appreciate the features that seem to ‘act’ upon the industry

  • Don’t expect much - but maybe you’ll at least enjoy yourselves!

‘Better Beekeeping, Better Marketing’

  • A ‘mission statement’ for the National Beekeepers’ Association for many, many years

  • Close relationship between the industry association and marketing efforts

  • Recognition that producing is not enough - the return for the producer has other influences...


  • Strong-willed individuals, high/low crops, attempts to control internal/external sales of honey

  • Early years, Honey Producers Co-operative (HPA), The NZ Honey Co Ltd, NZ Honey Control Board, Internal Marketing Division, Honey Marketing Authority

  • History of marketing, but also of the NBA

The early years...

  • Honey sold into England in 1880s, but irregularity of supply and speculation

  • NZ’s best clover honeys were the equal in quality

  • Hopkins and Mulvaney sent 5 tons, but it granulated - adulterated with flour!

  • While honey in England was retailed at 1/6 to 2/- per pound in glass, NZ producers were only getting 3d or 4d per pound

Instruction and Regulation

  • Isaac Hopkins, apiarist to the Department of Agriculture, established apiary at Ruakura Farm of Instruction

  • First honey house in 1906 costing £45

  • First Apiaries Act in 1906

Prior to the NBA

  • Not just a bunch of hobbyists, even then - crop of 32 tons in 1907

  • Slowing working toward the elimination of box hives

  • Fletcher Branthwaite (Tai Tapu), took 10 tons to England in 1907 - later had remainder sent back to NZ

The marketplace...

  • Most Auckland honey from Great Barrier Island, 2 pound tins, varying from pohutukawa to manuka

  • Well packed lines from the few commercial beekeepers in the Waikato - medium amber, strongly flavoured with pennyroyal and manuka

  • Southern North Island had J Walworth (Palmerston North) and William Lenz (Masterston) each with crops to 30 tons

Early apiary inspectors

  • WB Bray, Robert Gibb, Isaac Hopkins the original three, appointed in 1907

Those famous bicycles – really motorised? ...

Big crops, substantial exporting...

  • 1909/1910 Canterbury had record season, with average crop 200 pounds per hive - Price cutting saw returns drop to 3d per pound and lower…

  • Total exports for 1912/1913 586 hundredweight (value £1,182) - by end of 1913 nine month sales were 1,690 hundredweight (value £3,293)

The moves toward organisation...

  • Mr Hull, President of Canterbury Assn, suggested conference in Wellington in 1913 - proposing name of Federated Beekeepers’ Association of NZ

  • 1913 Canterbury formed a co-operative association to export honey

  • Department of Agriculture drew up voluntary grading regulations (based only on colour)

Co-operation started in Taranaki...

  • In 1913 Mr W Lenz decided to sell his Taranaki holdings

  • Small co-operative bought bees and sold to members in lots, and acted as marketing operation

  • HW Gilling, HR Penny, AR Bates among the 8 members

  • Based around packing operation of HW Gilling in Hawera

  • No initial capital - deductions from payments for honey supplied

The National Beekeepers’ Association

  • Value of honey production £50,000 when Hon R Heaton Rhodes opened the 1914 conference in Wellington

  • James Allan (Wyndham) elected President

  • Membership of 256, expecting to double in the coming year

Early NBA Conference

Major A E M Norton...

  • Managing director of the Bristol and Dominion Producers’ Association Ltd

  • Formerly Trade Commissioner in England for South Australia

  • Promoted branding by country and regularity of supply for continued sales

  • Offered to contract for 100 tons minimum, 500 tons maximum for three years, at 4d FOB minimum, 5d possible...

The beginning of organised exports

  • NZ Co-op Honey Producers’ Association took up the contract

  • Increased authorised capital, accepted other shareholders

  • Grading regulations became compulsory, leading to increased exports, ‘respectability’ of the product, increased local prices

Failure to supply...

  • By end of 1916 the HPA had several hundred shareholders

  • Exports fell 30 tons short of the required 100 tons

  • Major Norton and the B & D expressed concern, but didn’t try to recover damages

  • B & D substituted cardboard containers for glass in innovative packaging move

The honey to England

  • Light and dark honeys accepted by B & D for sale into England

  • Lighter honeys sold in southern cities, darker sold in the north

  • Darker sold as ‘New Zealand heather honey’ until Agricultural Dept pointed out there was no heather!

  • “What harm could it do anyone to call it that” the Editor argued...

Calls for co-operation

  • Late 1916 WB Bray called for co-operation

  • If the small crop had all been exported, local prices would have soared

  • Windfall for the non-HPA members

  • Urged HPA members to turn high local offers over to the HPA rather than filling them individually

  • “We want to ride in a motor car too some day”

High prices, but problems with the B & D contract

  • Sugar under control in England, honey prices soared

  • HPA paid out 8 1/3 pence per pound late in 1917!

  • Crop estimated at 1,250 tons, with HPA advancing 4 3/4 per pound on the two grades

  • By early 1917 some problems with shipping space to England

The end of the War...

  • In 1917 stocks on hand were shipped to England

  • Cheaper Australian and Californian honey, along with cheap corn syrup, had created consumer resistance

  • Reduced buying power for English consumers

  • Some NZ honey in store had fermentation problems...

Problems for the Bristol and Dominion Producers’ Assn

  • B & D had considerable stocks of HPA honey

  • HPA had two seasons’ honey in stock, overseas market with low consumption depressed by poor quality honey still held by retailers

  • High prices for 1918 crop locally and for export…

Conference 1918 (Wellington)

Shareholders vs their Association

  • Many HPA shareholders selling for short-term profit outside of the organisation

  • HPA paying 9d for honey in June, but only getting 5 1/2d advanced, with the rest to come when the honey was shipped

  • HPA had 300 tons accumulated in shipping stores

  • By 1919 HPA calling up subscribed but unpaid capital

The slide in prices...

  • By 1919 price in England down to £100 per ton - half of what it was the previous year

  • Returns to beekeepers revised down from £150 to only £75 per ton over a period of two months…

  • HPA advertised “Civil War in NZ” and “Outbreak of Hostilities - a Warning to the NZ Beekeeper”

Troubles for the B & D...

  • 1921 the Bristol and Dominion Producers’ Assn Ltd went into voluntary liquidation

  • Considerable volumes of honey held both in NZ and England

  • 1920 crop marketed mostly to NZ, the US and Canada (because of bad crops there)

  • Americans and Canadians enforced a 3 cents per pound import duty!

Re-establishing an export presence...

  • AJ Mills and Co suggested as agent to handle NZ honey in England

  • Unsettled claims and counterclaims from B & D’s liquidation ultimately cost £10,000

  • Editor described beekeeper who did not support the HPA or competed with it as “a drone, a cheat, a traitor or a dead-beat!”

The ‘new’ Ruakura honey house, 1923

The ‘bad years’...

  • By 1923 honey was down to 4 1/2d per pound

  • Prices for Californian honey in London continued to fall with the failure of their co-operative association

  • HPA members told to quit as much locally as possible to try to let Mills and Co catch up on the backlog of honey

  • Call for board of NBA, HPA and Govt to supervise exports to England

Good crops, even worse years...

  • 1927 had local market fully stocked, price cutting widespread

  • 1927/1928 crop one of largest ever, with 1,029 tons exported

  • Local market prices low, beekeepers just trying to get quit of it

  • NBA wanting to stabilise the local market before it was completely ruined

The end of the HPA...

  • HPA only being used to dispose of honey, even by previously loyal shareholders

  • AJ Mills and Co worrying over the outlay to pay advances, having troubles with sales

  • Government agreed to £9,000 assistance for advertising in England

  • Schemes to control local marketing considered essential

‘Better Beekeeping, Better Marketing’

  • PA Hillary began to publish “The Alighting Board”

  • WB Bray began publishing “The New Zealand Honey Producer” July 1929

The ‘Contract Scheme’

  • Attempt to get 75% of the 1,200 HPA shareholders to either sell through the HPA or at uniform price, uniform package

  • Hope that this could stabilise the local market, with 1/2 penny per pound of honey on advertising to increase consumption

  • Payout for 1929 only half of the previous season...

And a bad season...

  • 1929/1930 honey season the worst for 15 years, probably only one third of the previous season’s record big crop - two record seasons, one disastrous season and a world depression…

  • C and E Morton take over as agents for the HPA

Christchurch Conference 1931

The start of the 1930s, the end of the HPA...

  • PA Hillary elected President of the NBA in 1931

  • Proposal to extend the powers of the Honey Control Board to local market

  • Proposal to create ‘equalisation fund’ to encourage exports

  • In July 1932, HPA finally placed itself into voluntary liquidation

Who’s the boy?

And out of the ashes...

  • New Zealand Honey, Ltd picked up where the HPA left off, at a time when honey had dropped to as low as 2 1/2d per pound

  • Shareholders could be compelled to supply 50% of their crop to the company

  • NZ Honey came into being after failure of the honey crop and the failure of competitive open marketing

1932 Conference

And that Seals Levy...

  • Wallace Nelson of Otorohanga first proposed the use of a ‘seal’ to be fixed to containers of honey sold as part of a marketing association

  • ‘Sealed honey’ would assure the public of superior quality and stability to the marketing organisation

Trying to fix the bad spots...

  • NZ Honey required definite proportions of crops

  • Shareholders had to agree not to sell at less than the Association’s listed prices

  • Members fixed seal to indicate 1/2d paid levy on honey sold directly

  • While NZ Honey was selling the honey, it was still under the control of the Honey Control Board

Imperial Bee brand...

  • Branding of honey as ‘NZ’ had resulted in consumer acceptance/confidence in the Imperial Bee label

  • Owned by the HPA up to time of liquidation

  • Government advanced money to NZ Honey to secure the goodwill and trademark

Reasonable stability...

  • 1930s had local market price cutting, but a slow increase in export returns

  • Many producers saddled with paying back the over advances from the HPA

  • Payout up to 4 1/2d per pound

Creamed honey...

  • Dr EJ Dyce had patent right to the processing of honey to create ‘creamed honey’

  • Rights were revoked in 1935 after the NZ Honey Control Board took an action

  • NZ Honey Control Board got two guineas for costs...

Another knock...

  • C and E Morton (HPA’s agents in England) claimed £17,000 for overpayment of advances

  • Governement agree to loan the industry £10,000 to reduce the debt

The issue of ‘control’...

  • Commission of Agriculture held enquiry, concluding that there should be a single authority to supervise the whole of marketing (local and export), and a ‘pooling’ with payments by grade

  • 1936/1937 again one of those ‘worst crop years’…

  • Honey Control Board and NZ Honey Co wanted to maintain existing markets...

The Australian honey...

  • Importers claimed the honey was never to be sold in New Zealand or blended with Imperial Bee pack

  • Intended only to supply as ‘manufacturing grade’

  • NZ Honey Ltd ceased trading after 4 1/2 years, having increased returns from 4 1/2d per pound to 6d

The Internal Marketing Division

  • Labour Government...

  • In 1938 the IMD took over NZ Honey Ltd’s business and plant at valuation

  • NZ Honey Ltd wound up, paying back all shares and capital and 6d per pound pro rata on the last year’s honey

  • All producers selling outside of the IMD to affix a stamp for 1/2d per pound...

The basic problem...

  • By the late 1930s, beekeepers knew that high prices in a season of shortage were of no real use when prices fell to unprofitable level when crop was above average

  • IMD attempted to stabilise the returns to beekeepers

  • War brought more problems...

The new packing plant...

  • IMD built a new packing depot in Auckland

  • One half of total crop produced in the Auckland province and two thirds of total crop came from the North Island

  • New plant required high proportion, consistent supplies and support

  • Aiming for all export and storage for export, as well as the 700 to 800 tons for NZ trade

And a bad season...

  • Short season in 1937/1938, good one in 1938/1939, but 1939/1940 was one of the worst on record

  • Hardly any ‘carry over’ honey

  • Pressure to obtain supplies for overseas commitments

  • Speculators operating...

Support for the IMD...

  • Producer/packers urged by the IMD to reconsider packing operations

  • “6 1/4d per pound plus payout should make packers reconsider”

  • Opposition primarily from South Island

  • Concept of ‘zoning of marketing areas’ - giving IMD sole selling rights seen as necessity by some

And another bad year!

  • 1941/42 was worst ‘since honey production acquired the status of an industry’

  • GS Kirker remarked “By marketing their honey independently of the Division while good times continue beekeepers might reap a harvest, but they will surely need a marketing organisation at the end of the war - and probably sooner if there is a succession of bumper crops.”

Freezing of prices and costs...

  • 1943 saw price and cost controls introduced

  • Internal prices to be divorced from export parity, with excess to be paid into pool accounts

  • 7d per pound pro rata was considered too low a base price

The Marketing Scheme

  • Compulsory supply of 70% of crop for all beekeepers with 20 hives or more

  • Remaining 30% could be disposed of by the beekeeper

  • Existing producer/packer facilities to be utilised allowing for all the year round work for those businesses

  • Canterbury flatly refused - the ‘Canterbury viewpoint’...

Controlled marketing...

  • IMD claimed that from 1940 until the late 1930s the price of honey had not depended on the size of the crop or individual ability to ‘master the market’

  • It depended entirely on some organisation to take the surplus market off the local market and obtain a good price on a market built up overseas, often after considerable effort

The failure to supply...

  • The 70% acquisition expected 1,400 tons

  • Only 760 tons supplied from beekeepers…

  • IMD warned that the current high prices and demand were solely due to the war, and pointed to similar situation in England in the early 1920s

  • 1944 brought same 70% ‘commandeering’ with required reporting, maximum customer size of 5 pound tin

The end of the war

  • 1944 marketing plan to commandeer only 30 or 35 pounds per hive, approximately 50% of the crop

  • Seals levy fund now stood at £17,000, with £50,000 total reserves

  • IMD still not being supplied with enough for war requirements, supply of honey to cities

Voluntary supply

  • War time regulations called for 70% supply, but never more than 20% of total crop ever used for war priorities

  • Est. crop of 3,000, suggest supply 1,000 to IMD; half of remainder sold direct to consumer, half to trade (with seals levy)

  • This £5,000 to supplement bulk supply, allowing payout of 8d per pound

  • IMD was not being supported - 85 tons in 1946!

Another association...

  • The appointed Honey Control Board (W Nelson) a point of contention

  • Honey Suppliers’ Assn formed to represent those who supply the IMD which proposed increased payout coming from seals revenue

  • Use of seals ‘tax’ change from advertising to equalisation

‘Unique marketing situation…’

  • Low crop, high consumer demand

  • Front door selling in favoured areas of entire crop in bulk direct to consumer

  • Cancellation of sugar subsidy for manufacturers

  • Continued rationing of sugar to public

Control, responsibility for marketing

  • Honey Control Board was ‘advisory only’ to the government; IMD decisions were seen to be an imposition on the industry

  • By 1947, call for a new ‘set up’ to exercise measure of control, responsibility for marketing decisions

  • Early 1948 saw Honey Marketing Committee (Field, Holt, Nelson) formed to prepare for election of a producers’ board

Policy for 1949/1950

  • Pool account

  • Standard pack within NZ

  • No obstruction to private producer-packers

  • Ensure use of honey seals

  • Maintain and develop export market (aim at 500 tons of Imperial Bee standard)

  • Close liaison with Marketing Committee, IMD and producers

Another complicating factor...

  • ‘Stabilisation’ following the war kept the price of honey fixed

  • Price Tribunal was loathe to increase the price of honey in NZ, protecting the consumer

  • When prices were increased, it occurred after tremendous effort and long delays

Alternative viewpoints...

  • WB Bray: “Enable the producer to control the marketing of his crop with a view to freedom in association with other producers”

  • Wallace Nelson: “Need for confidence in marketing organisation to ensure adequate supplies of honey, with full administrative responsibility over the IMD, giving control to the producers”

1950: What the industry wanted...

  • Organised marketing through central packing depot or depots

  • Contracts of supply from producers

  • Simpler method of collecting levy

  • Franchise for suppliers and contributors to the Seals Levy on equal basis

  • Seals reserves and revenue be administered by the Honey Marketing Committee

Executive of 1951

The Seals Levy...

  • Set at 1/2d per pound back in the 1930s

  • By the early 1950s it had not changed, and was not providing the revenue required to supplement payouts

  • Still many claims of avoidance

Changes requested in 1952

  • Seals Levy to increase to 1 penny per pound, purchasers (as well as suppliers) should be eligible for nomination to the Honey Marketing Committee

  • The Honey Marketing Committee opposed the nomination of seals levy purchasers

  • Minister Holyoake appointed a purchaser (EA Field) as the Government representative!

Primary Products Marketing Act, 1953

  • Hand over to producers the marketing of primary products

  • Internal Marketing Division is abolished

  • Benefit of existing government finance arrangements

  • To pay due regard to general Government trade policy

  • Government representative to consider interests of consumer

Attempt at subsidy...

  • 6,000 ton average crop, 4,500 consumed in NZ

  • 1,500 tons required to export

  • Called for government subsidy on seals levy to acknowledge pollination value of the industry!

  • KJ Holyoake, Minister of Agriculture: “Nice try…”

A new marketing authority

  • A resounding ‘yes’ - 245 producers (80,000 hives) yes, 15 (with 5,000 hives) no…

  • Six member board: 4 elected producers, 1 appointed NBA representative, 1 Government representative

  • First members: R Davidson, EA Field, WT Herron, WW Nelson (with Executive Director Williams the NBA representative)

Seals Levy retained

  • There was little disagreement that a form of ‘internal contribution’ to the marketing body was required

  • Seals Levy retained

Kimpton Brothers...

  • Appointed as agents to the HMA in 1954

  • Sold over 2,000 tons in first year at a steadily increasing price for all grades

  • Returns close to local parity

  • Colonel Kimpton said it was honey grading regulations coupled with export control regulations that made it possible

Southland beekeepers

Price Control

  • After 16 years by 1957 Price Control (ceiling price) had lost favour with beekeepers

  • Stability created by the HMA should be able to set fair price

  • Export bulk prices beginning to exceed local packed prices…

  • Same issue that announced decontrol announced return to Price Controls!

Executive 1957

Veteran beekeepers, 1957

WB Bray (Leeston), AR Bates (Matamata), C Horner (Te Aroha), A Pearson (Hamilton), TH Pearson (Auckland), HC Wedde (Raurimu), H Geddes (Rotorua), E Sage (Ohaupo)

The HMA debt

  • The HMA in the late 1950s had a high level of debt, and consequent low confidence from beekeepers

  • £100,000 debt after taking over from the IMD

  • New building in Parnell (after old IMD building had rent increases)

  • Request for government grant in lieu of seals levy evasion

The HMA’s trading position

  • Overseas realisations were not as high as the local returns

  • Essential that several thousand tons were exported to maintain local market stability

  • 75% of honey supplied to HMA was being exported

  • Lack of Seals Levy plus low export returns meant low payout meant decreased supply

Government investigation

  • ‘Form a committee’

  • Submissions from NBA, branches, HMA and others

  • Ultimately decided to move all the debt over to Reserve Bank overdraft facilities

  • Same facility that Apple and Pear Board and Dairy Commission already had…

  • Suggest increase in Seals Levy to 1 1/2d, extend to all honey in retail containers

Change in representation

  • NBA had member on HMA as of right; that was lost

  • In 1960 Wallace Nelson lost his position on the HMA after 28 years without defeat (back to Honey Control Board days). WB Bray defeated, too (health reasons)

  • Jack Fraser and Jim Barber, both NBA Executive, became producer representatives; George Gumbrell chairman

Compulsory acquisition

  • 1961/1962 was below average season, but 1962/1963 was a good one

  • Price cutting on top quality honeys

  • Call for compulsory supply or several restricted local sales-outlets for producers

  • Darker honeys, especially, receiving low returns

  • Light honey producers keen to sell overseas on own account

The Kimton Agreement

  • No exports to UK or bulk exports to any other country

  • Small consignments in retail containers considered alright

  • Light honey producers feeling that the pool system was not giving them fair return

  • Percy Berry elected to HMA with promise to terminate the contract

Acrimony and division...

  • Public slanging through the industry journal on merits of sole agent

  • 1964 election of Dudley Lorimer and Jack Fraser indicated support for the Kimpton Agreement and HMA policy

  • ‘The alternatives have been categorically rejected and the disruptive elements in the industry have been summarily dealt with’ - G Gumbrell, retiring Chairman

  • P Berry defeated in 1966

And the small crops again...

  • Two below average seasons, followed by 1966/1967 which was a disaster

  • Conscious decision by HMA that the future was in the export of bulk honey

  • Distance from markets, competition in retail sales, difficult markets seen as barriers to change

  • With small crops, though, the HMA wanted to maintain the goodwill of domestic brands

‘Buyer of last resort’...

  • Jack Fraser in 1969 described history of the Seals Levy

  • HMA bound to accept all honey offered to it

  • Processing, blending these honeys to raise sales value would be a direct charge on the pool

  • Seals Levy acts as an ‘industry fund’

Executive (visit to Wallaceville), 1969

The 1971 proposal

  • President Bruce Forsyth proposed no Seals Levy but a flat 2 cents per pound producers’ levy

  • Import distinction was producer to pay, not packer

Changes to Kimpton Agreement

  • Agreement with Kimpton’s changed from 12 months notice to 6

  • Changed formula for calculating commission

  • Sole agent for bulk honey, but packed lines can be sold in their territory

And another committee...

  • Committee of Government Caucus on an Inquiry into the NZ Honey Industry, 1972

  • Recommended HMA remain, but not ‘compete vigorously’

  • Allow for exports without approval of the HMA, levy proposed on the sale (not production) of honey

  • But 1972 conference voted against private exports…

High overseas prices...

  • By 1973, honey prices had increased dramatically

  • HMA payout fixed by Government at 20 cents when HMA wanted to pay out higher

  • Government wouldn’t let HMA increase domestic honey price, either

Executive, 1973

Changes to the levy

  • HMA wanted extension of current scheme, paid by packers on containers, with more enforcement powers (the ‘Ecroyd scheme’)

  • NBA wanted extension to full producer levy, based on declarations (the ‘NBA scheme’)

  • But by 1974, NBA membership moved to favour a ‘hive levy’...

Rising costs, pegged prices...

  • HMA unable to include increases in production costs as justification for increase in wholesale price of honey

  • Government involvement in local market pricing as well as (recently) price smoothing of producer incomes

  • Hive Levy Act provided for 5 cents per hive stabilisation levy

HMA and private exports

  • Retail packs, 10 tonnes or less, subject to HMA approval

  • Exports could not be allowed to jeopardise the ability of the HMA to maintain a stable domestic market and export

  • by 1976 need for representation of all producers in HMA decisions (P Berry elected previously)

  • Remits in 1976, 1977 and 1978 calling for private bulk exports...

The HMA composition

  • Two in favour of private exports, two more desirous of HMA control, and the Government representative…

  • Late 1978, the deadlock was broken, with majority in favour of private exports

HMA at 1979 conference...

  • Financial position, inflation worrying

  • Traditionally buying all honey offered, sole right to export bulk honey - act as buffer against high or low production years

  • Funding system borne by the industry as a whole and/or complete export control

  • Conference decided HMA could restrict honey to accept...

Stabilisation scheme

  • With no Seals Levy, HMA operated a ‘base price’ and ‘trigger price’ system

  • Any realisation in access of the trigger price would go to reserves

  • Base price was used to determine ‘cost price’ of honey for local market, so packers were selling for less than they could in bulk to the HMA!

New policy formulation

  • Admin of export control to go from HMA

  • SI operation could be only commercial HMA involvement

  • Control over exports still desired

  • Centre for export control to be placed in hands of ‘alternative body’

  • Export control office should set minimum export price

The Dellow report, the Kay arbitration

  • Outlined financial, political, administrative and marketing structures necessary for success of proposed Honey Marketing Co-op

  • Decision on who to benefit/how to handle the HMA reserves

  • Decision to loan funds to Co-op challenged by injunction

  • Arbitration led to a trust, the loan, and the ultimate end of the HMA

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