Federated Farmers says a string of beehive thefts in Wairarapa is because of growing competition for high priced manuka honey.
Dozens of hives have been reported stolen over the past few months.
Kintail Honey Wairarapa said 20 of its hives had been stolen recently, each worth $250 to $350, and it knew of two other companies that each lost 15 hives.
Bee industry group chairman John Hartnell said people were starting to realise the value of manuka honey - which could retail at $500 a kilogram.
He said that was driving people to steal hives and take someone else's good work.
Mr Hartnell said hive thefts were more common in the North Island, where there was heightened competition for manuka rich areas.
Bob Hall, manager of Kintail Honey Wairarapa, said beekeepers believed the thief was an amateur apiarist trying to set up in the manuka honey business.
"It's difficult to keep hives alive without some reasonable knowledge, especially this time of year, you're going to have to get the bees through the winter and work them to get them up in spring. It's definitely somebody that knows what they're doing."
Mr Hall said the best hope for catching the culprit was that a farmer or bush walker would stumble across the missing hives, which were specially branded and painted for identification.