Happy growing hazelnuts

Couple are happy growing hazelnuts

Smart Farmer News
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Craig Anderson and Bindi Vanzella grow a lot more than just hazelnuts on their property, but it is where their passion lies.

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REGENERATIVE: Craig Anderson at Happy Wombat Hazelnuts said that the majority of trees affected by the bushfires were coming back.

REGENERATIVE: Craig Anderson at Happy Wombat Hazelnuts said that the majority of trees affected by the bushfires were coming back.

When you drive down Lower Bago Road, Kunama, you will have to work hard to see anything other than a number of picturesque apple orchards.

However, if you look very closely, you may just spot Happy Wombat Hazelnuts nestled in among the orchards.

Nearly 27 years ago, Craig Anderson and Bindi Vanzella purchased approximately 20 hectares of potato farm and grazing land just 11 kilometres out of Batlow, NSW.

The pair are from farming families but wanted to try their hand at something different and planted 2800 trees and Happy Wombat Hazelnuts was born.

Craig and Bindi grow a lot more than just hazelnuts on their property, also growing cool climate produce including persimmons, medlars, raspberries, blueberries, boysenberries and pears among other fruits as well.

SECURE: Craig and Bindi count themselves lucky in that their dam has never dropped more than a foot or two since they bought the property.

SECURE: Craig and Bindi count themselves lucky in that their dam has never dropped more than a foot or two since they bought the property.

But, after one minute speaking to the pair it is easy to tell their passion lies with hazelnuts.

"Bindi's family own an apple orchard and I come from a broadacre farming family from northern Queensland," Craig said.

"We wanted to do something a bit different and decided to give hazelnuts a go.

"People should eat more nuts. Not only hazelnuts, but nuts in general. They are really good for you.

"We pride ourselves on delivering fresh produce at a reasonable price.

"We don't price gouge - we believe nuts are not a luxury item and they should be enjoyed by everyone."

We don't price gouge - we believe nuts are not a luxury item and they should be enjoyed by everyone. - Craig Anderson, Happy Wombat Hazelnuts

From planting as whip, basically a 600mm stick in the ground, it takes a hazelnut tree around seven years before it reaches full production.

Hazelnuts are self-infertile, meaning they rely on another tree to fertilise it.

"Around late Winter to early Spring, the trees produce catkins which are the male part of the tree used to fertilise the female flowers," Craig said.

"We prune during winter and spray the trees with copper three times a year to combat bacterial blight.

"They say if you are growing hazelnuts and don't have bacterial blight - don't worry, it'll find you.

"We usually begin harvest on the first weekend in March and typically finish in late April.

"Last year we harvested approximately six tonne from our 2800 trees.

"I would have expected that to grow again this year, however, the bushfires gave us a solid hit.

"Most of the affected trees seem to be coming back so I expect production to hit between eight and 10 tonne in the next three years."

To collect the harvest, Happy Wombat Hazelnuts use a special tractor attachment with a finger roller to pick the nuts up off the ground.

Craig said the machine does a pretty good job, but they still require the use of hand-held collectors to gather the remaining nuts.

The harvested nuts are predominantly sold to local restaurants and fresh produce vendors as well as a buyer in WA.

Bushfires create a rare chance for study

RECOVERING: Hazelnut trees affected by the fires at Happy Wombat Hazelnuts on the mend.

RECOVERING: Hazelnut trees affected by the fires at Happy Wombat Hazelnuts on the mend.

When the bushfire that tore through the Batlow and Tumut area was roaring towards their 2800 trees, Craig Anderson and Bindi Vanzella were told to evacuate Happy Wombat Hazelnuts.

If they had listened to this advice, things would be very different for them today.

Instead of possibly losing everything, now they are helping to better understand the affects bushfires have on hazelnut trees.

"While I don't condone not listening to the Rural Fire Service, if we had I am sure we would have been burnt out," Craig said.

"We stayed and fought all the ground fires that broke out from the flying embers.

"Trees were affected right through the front section of the orchard.

"We have lost some trees, the ones which bore the brunt of the fire front.

"As you move steadily back through the trees you can see each row is less affected.

"Other than the first row or two which were actually hit with flames, the trees have held up pretty well.

"As they are pretty green, they had too much moisture to burn and they were most affected by the heat.

"Most of the trees are regenerating nicely.

"However, we have lost a fair bit of production - not only from this harvest but from the next couple."

After the fire, Craig and Bindi were approached by NSW DPI who saw an opportunity to study how the fires affect the trees and how well they regenerate.

"As hazelnuts are mainly grown in cooler areas which aren't usually prone to bushfires, the DPI saw this as a rare opportunity for study," Craig said.

"They have tagged a number of trees affected by the fires and are monitoring their progress.

"They are monitoring each stage of the regeneration process and will record the information.

"We have remarkable consistency across our affected trees which is a real positive for the study.

"When you see the same results across the board, you can call it data."

The trees were not the only things which were damaged by the fires.

Happy Wombat Hazelnuts uses drip irrigation to water the trees and the poly pipe was totally destroyed and needed replacing.

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