Macadamia production is creating the greatest farm-gate value on the far Northern Rivers, outpacing beef production for the first time, according to latest figures.
The ascendancy of the native nut was announced during the state’s only whistle stop presentation of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences conference, at Casino on Wednesday.
Australian Macadamia Society chief executive officer, Jolyon Burnett, said the announcement even surprised himself but he was more than pleased to accept the accolades.
“The Macadamia nut as a product is on trend,” he said. “It ticks all the boxes in that meets the requirements of so many current diets whether they be gluten-free, vegetarian, Paleo or Vegan. Besides that they are tasty and good for you. “
Mr Burnett said the industry has worked hard to show local communities that farming practice can be trusted to do the right thing when it comes to environmental responsibility.
Erosion of steep red soil under dark, dense canopies of old trees is a problem that can be remedied by allowing more light onto the orchard floor. The solution also increases nut set, although this takes time.
“When I see growers pulling out every second tree and forgoing perhaps $100,000 worth of nuts for the next couple of years at this time of high prices so that they can ensure the future sustainability of their farm I can tell that we have growers who really want to be a long term part of this region,” Mr Burnett said. “We have the satellite photos that show this is happening.”
The macadamia society has, for the last few years, focused on export sales which have paid dividends with prices paid to growers rising year on year for the six seasons, although losses from poor prices are still a sharp memory with some growers only paying tax after the last two harvests. But a lot has changed since the days of return below the cost of production.
Tariffs are now working in favour of the industry with regards to markets in Japan, China and particularly Korea where the sale of the Aussie native has climbed from a base of zero to 500 tonnes a year.
“We work hard to bring key influencers here to Australia, people like consumer bloggers from Korea and Taiwan, and we show them how macadamia nuts are grown and they love it,” Mr Burnett said.
“The industry is dominated by small farms not big corporations and the largest processor, MPC at Alphadale, is a co-operative.”
Scale and supply of the rainforest nut has been something that the macadamia society has been working on for some time. While Australia used to supply half of global supply that figure is dropping to 35 per cent now and will likely fall to 20 per cent in a decade’s time but if there are more macadamias being offered for sale then the whole of the global industry will benefit, says Mr Burnett. And Australia is best positioned to supply best quality at top price.
For the manufacturing trade, there is great scope. About 60 per cent of almonds are sold for manufacturing into baked goods, nut bars and more while macadamias in this space account for less than 30 per cent of the crop while new recipes using the iconic ingredient are being created all the time.
On farm realities of pest and disease affect macadamia nuts like any other intensively grown crop but Mr Burnett is confident the grower community remains on the front door when it comes to vigilance and prevention.
Lacebug, when it first arrived, delivered 30 to 40 per cent losses but that has been rectified using targeted sprays and orchard management outlined in a comprehensive industry field manual, prepared by the DPI with the society.
Newly arrived sigastus weevil presents more complex challenges but the industry is currently trialing biological control.
“The industry is looking to the future,” Mr Burnett said. “It is more sustainable.”