The expansion of the macadamia nut industry on the Lower Clarence is gathering momentum.
Last Friday, local growers and prospective growers attended a seminar at Ashby to hear about how the industry is growing, and associated soil and fertiliser presentations.
Robbie Commens, the macadamia industry productivity development manager for the industry’s peak body, the Australian Macadamia Society, which is located in Lismore, said that around 200 hectares of the Lower Clarence floodplain were planted with macadamia nut trees.
He estimates that there could be another 500 hectares planted over the next three years, “based on grower interest and [the views of the contractor] who does the mounding and laser levelling for macadamia sites”.
He said there were about 250 hectares planted on non floodplain land from Woodford Island to Tullymorgan, too.
“The purpose of my presentation was to provide a snapshot of the industry and its background; and an introduction on how to get into the industry by planting a new orchard,” Mr Commens said.
“We covered everything from where macadamias are planted in Australia, and how they’re 70 per cent export focussed; and that we don’t have a huge reliance on domestic consumption.
“I went into how a grower who owns land could convert to macadamias, step by step.”
He said the growth of the industry on the floodplain has come about through gaining an “understanding of the higher water table and relatively good, but not overly rich, soils.
“Those trees [stay] in a production phase for a much longer period during the year, [compared to] the vegetative phase that we often end up with on the tablelands around the Alstonville and Dunoon area, where it is a rich, heavy soil.
“The sandier soil allows management to achieve higher nut production; [however] I highlighted the importance of getting soil preparation and drainage right before planting any trees.”
He said that not all floodplain soils are the same, however, and that they would need to be analysed before deciding to plant.
Mr Commens said the market for macadamia nuts was largely driven by international demand, particularly from China – “the industry has a long history of foreign investment in farms”.
“Four years ago, less that 100 tonnes of macadamias were going to China; now it’s nearing 10,000 tonnes,” he said.
“And, with macadamias, because it’s so mechanised, one person can run 15 hectares as a standalone entity and make a quite reasonable income off that.
“A lot of people expressed their concerns that selling smaller farms with sugarcane planted was not particularly financially rewarding.
“But if we have 50 acres of macadamias, we can see there might be an investment opportunity [for the farm owner] to transition out of the property.”
One attendee, Gary Prosser, is currently planting a “small scale” orchid of 2,000 trees, across about 20 acres, near Palmers Island Public School.
Mr Prosser currently lives and works in Canberra and is the deputy CEO of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
“The grand plan is to live here,” he said. “We bought our first place here 25 years ago – I grew up in Woolgoolga, went to school in Coffs and, a long time ago, realised this is where I wanted to be.”
Leading macadamia grower on the floodplain, Bruce Green, is currently preparing the site for planting; Mr Prosser said, “hopefully, after the planting, we’ll be [living] here in a couple of years”.
Another farmer, Dave Sanna, who has planted 1,000 trees on his 220 acre Palmers Island farm, is moving away from sugarcane.
“We’re also planting soy bean and other crops in winter, like wheat or oats,” he said. “I’m with a group of four men who have invested in a grain header, which will be able to harvest crops like soy beans, wheat and other grains.”
Bruce Green’s wife, Liz, said the presentation “left no doubts in the minds of those already in the industry or those thinking about it”.