Stars align for maca growers

Stars align for maca growers


Horticulture
Macadamia grower Hugh Harris, "Evermore Farm", Tregeagle, examines this season's flowers in his orchard.

Macadamia grower Hugh Harris, "Evermore Farm", Tregeagle, examines this season's flowers in his orchard.

Aa

EXCELLENT harvesting conditions have topped a good growing season to see the majority of the State’s macadamia producers finally able to align solid yields with good prices.

Aa

EXCELLENT harvesting conditions have topped a good growing season to see the majority of the State’s macadamia producers finally able to align solid yields with good prices.

Late August rain across the Northern Rivers, where the majority of Australian macadamias are grown, delayed the final pick-up but the crop is still on track to hit 40,000 tonnes in-shell.

That equates to a five to 10 per cent increased yield on last season across most farms.

It will combine nicely with near-record prices of up to $4 a kilogram for nut-in-shell on the back of strong global demand – a lift from the $3.20/kg of last season’s crop and a big jump from the $1.20/kg macadamias were returning just six years ago.

With the widespread rain of the past few weeks setting up the 2015 crop beautifully and the Japanese free trade agreement (FTA) likely to see an expansion of that lucrative market, growers have plenty to smile about.

The FTA will likely take about $500 off the price of a tonne of Australian macadamia kernel into Japan, which is the industry’s second largest trading partner.

Australian Macadamia Society chief executive Jolyon Burnett said better farmgate prices were already flowing back onto orchards in the form of improved tree nutrition and management of pests and diseases, bearing in mind growers had to deal with four to five very difficult years featuring everything from flood, wind and hail storms to drought.

Ninety per cent of the 2014 crop is now harvested, with better kernel quality than recent years, Mr Burnett said.

Despite the larger crop, available kernel is expected to be similar to last year, due to strong Chinese demand for in-shell and almost no “carry-in” from the previous year.

The amount of in-shell product shipped to China this year is expected to double.

Meanwhile, flowering, the first stage of the macadamia growing cycle, has kicked off and this year should be shorter than that of the past few seasons, providing a big boost to efforts to keep lace bug in check.

Lace bug has been responsible for losses of between 50 and 100pc of crops in the past few years.

A prolonged and out-of-season flowering in 2012 provided for more life cycles of the insect and its numbers built up significantly.

The loss of endosulfan also created the opportunity for levels to further increase.

Mr Burnett said on the back of the extensive losses, plenty of attention was paid to lace bug last year and there were good improvements but it was crucial that trend continue.

Consultant Stephen McLean said lace bug remained on the orchard year-round, hibernating during non-flowering periods.

Growers should be monitoring and making decisions based on thresholds and application technique was key, he said.

Effective spray coverage was critical, especially in large trees.

Crop protection compounds permitted are diazinon and leppidex and already many growers would have sprayed once to kill adults.

Mr McLean said the recent registration of the botanical insecticide pyrethroid meant organic growers now also had an option.

Thanks to a well-supported voluntary contribution scheme, a three- to five-year project run by the University of NSW into lace bug was now underway.

Mr Burnett said it had the potential to save the industry millions in lost crop.

“Long-term we are striving for a biological control but in the short term, it will be able (to monitor) levels and (provide) guides for timing of spraying.”

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