Nutty profession booms as macadamias hit a golden age
WHEN he's not working through the night harvesting macadamias, Andrew Wallis finds his farm at Kinkuna a place of peace.
"I can take a walk in the orchard, sit down between the rows and relax," he said.
"I don't think there's an agricultural industry that's brighter than growing nuts at the moment."
After years of work, he says macadamia farmers are "reaping the benefits" of a golden age for the industry - and prospective growers are travelling from across the country to see how it's done in Bundaberg.
The Australian Macadamia Society hosted a new event on the weekend for around 18 new and potential investors, who travelled from as far south as Canberra and as far north as Mackay.
Seminars at the Sugarland Tavern on Friday were followed by a tour of six farms across the region on Saturday, where Mr Wallis and others shared their expertise, from tree density to orchard management systems and irrigation.
Productivity development officer with the Society, Robbie Commens, said the industry was enjoying "a rare marriage of record crops and record prices", with demand from countries like China at a high. The nut and shell price is currently up to $5 per kilo.
The crop is predicted to grow by around 2500ha in central Queensland in the next two years and Bundaberg is at the heart of the boom.
"This is a growth area - we expect 500 to 1000ha in the Bundaberg region."
At Alloway Macadamias, Ray Norris' nursery is booked out until 2018, with most of it going to growers in the Bundaberg region.
The 200ha property he manages is expanding to 230.
"We've seen a number of small crop growers move out of small crops because of the difficulties they have with labour and fluctuating prices; big turnover for not so much profit," Mr Norris said.
Set up costs are high until the trees start paying you back, Mr Wallis, who has been growing for 8 years, and Mr Norris, for 14, agreed.
"For the first seven years, you're putting your hand in your pocket," Mr Norris said.
"It's not for the faint hearted and it's not for the person with shallow pockets. But once you get over those hurdles, I think there's a degree of security."
Tony Denton has worked for macadamia farmers as an engineer for 30 years, and is preparing to start his own small macadamia farm outside Bundaberg as he moves into semi-retirement, with trees from Alloway.
John and Sharon Price came from Mackay to learn more, as they prepare to turn Sharon's parents' hobby cane farm into a macadamia plantation.
After three years of research, John said, "macadamias stacked up for the lifestyle, the harvest time frames, the amount of yields and returns.
"After today, we're more inspired to get in."
The morale in the industry extended to the open attitude among growers, Andrew Wallis said.
"I've been involved in everything from stock to cotton to sugarcane and this is about the only farming industry where people are happy to be open about what they do," he told attendees at the field day.
"How many plants per hectare do you plant? What fertiliser do you use? Nobody will tell you in other industries, but this one - it's a shared thing. The guts of it is, we're probably all learning together."
He said many growers from down south were "looking at what we're doing up here in Bundaberg now - and now they're doing that and reaping the benefits."