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Top: A view of part of Paul Reid’s macadamia nut farm on School Road, Palmers Island. Inset: A field west of the Palmers Island store is prepared for macadamia nut tree planting. The undulated grading serves several purposes: “To gain height during flood times – macadamias like moist conditions but don’t like wet feet,” says Bruce Green. “Then grass is planted, to prevent erosion; but the main reason is to grow mulch to put around trees.” Images: Geoff Helisma

Macadamia industry expands on the floodplain

Top: A view of part of Paul Reid’s macadamia nut farm on School Road, Palmers Island. Inset: A field west of the Palmers Island store is prepared for macadamia nut tree planting. The undulated grading serves several purposes: “To gain height during flood times – macadamias like moist conditions but don’t like wet feet,” says Bruce Green. “Then grass is planted, to prevent erosion; but the main reason is to grow mulch to put around trees.” Images: Geoff Helisma

Driving through Palmers Island, it’s hard not to notice changes to the landscape on the land around the village, as a result of the preparation and planting of macadamia nut trees.
Other farms on Southbank Road at Palmers Channel are well established and new planting has recently been completed there, too.
Bruce and Liz Green are the owners of the longest standing farm on the floodplain, having started planting about 10 years ago when the federal government “advised farmers to diversify”.
The Greens’ farm, regarded as being a hobby farm in the context of the sugarcane industry, is only 20 hectares.
Mr Green has assisted other farm owners to establish macadamia trees at Palmers Island; two more farms are currently being prepared on Chatsworth Island.
“A few farmers sat back so see what happened and decided to come on board a couple of years ago. They just come and have a look [at our farm] and we go from there,” he said.
He said about 320 acres (129 hectares) have been planted and another 310 acres (125 hectares) are being prepared.
“It’s working out well, with planning for the future; some are investors and some are farmers,” Mr Green said.
Is the macadamia industry’s move onto the alluvial soils of the floodplain a threat to the cane industry?
Pat Battersby, who is the Clarence Cane Growers Association manager and the executive officer for the NSW Cane Growers Association, says there is “concern” about the macadamia industry moving onto traditional cane growing land, but it’s not “a large threat”.
He said similar planting has taken place in the Richmond Valley, too.
“What the long term future holds; time will tell,” he said.
“We’ve formed a working group to have a look at the issue – but we’re not knocking another industry – we have to be proactive in our approach to convince people that the best thing for the land is growing cane.
“Returns are very strong at moment – since the 2013 flood, conditions have been extremely positive – farmers are getting record prices for cane at the moment, although we could do with some rain soon.”
He said that land being used for sugarcane has diminished over recent years, largely due to “lifestyle purchases and hobby farming” on smaller land holdings.
In 2007, there were 11,500 hectares planted with sugarcane, producing about 37 per cent of NSW’s sugar output.
Mr Battersby said that figure is “probably more like 10,000 hectares” now.
He said a report was currently being prepared that would update that figure.

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