Treasurer goes nuts for Bundy macadamias
"OVER there is where we size it, then we crack it, stream it, we suck the shell off ... and sort the kernels from the shells."
Today the State Treasurer, Curtis Pitt, got a look behind the scenes at our fastest-growing commodity.
Mr Pitt and Bundaberg MP Leanne Donaldson toured Pacific Gold Macadamias with general manager Shane Johnson, who painted a picture of the processing plant's struggle to keep up with domestic and international demand.
"Last year we had 1000 tonnes stored off site because we didn't have room," Mr Johnson told the treasurer.
"There is so much demand we simply can't keep up with the volumes required."
To remedy that fortuitous problem Pacific Gold has installed a new $2 million drying building which holds 900 tonnes of the nuts, and created four new supervisor positions.
"It more than doubles our drying capacity from last season and also gives us about 3000 tonnes storage capacity," Mr Johnson said.
The treasurer was full of praise for the plant as an example of Queensland's export success.
"Macadamia nuts are a very exciting product because we're seeing pick-up around the globe," Mr Pitt said.
"In my discussions with Shane today about the positive results they've seen, over the last year particularly, there is room for even more investment - which is great because it will mean more opportunities for local work both in terms of construction and more work in the plant itself."
Mr Johnson said China was the biggest market, taking 50% of their nuts.
"Last year we processed in excess of 10,000 tonnes of macadamias, worth around $57 million at farm gate," he said.
The plant on Rosedale Rd is "one of the most efficient in Australia", he told the treasurer.
It runs 24 hours a day and employs 140 staff but much of the processing is automated.
"Nothing is thrown away: the shell is sold and burnt for fuel, and all the fines (lower grade nuts that are finely ground) are pressed for table oil or cosmetic oil.
"We value-add by roasting and putting it in packets."
In 2016 Queensland generated more than $52 billion worth of exports, Mr Pitt said.
"If we can continue to work those markets as hard as we are right now, with our reputation for clean, green products and attention to detail including food safety, we're going to continue to see terrific results overseas."
Last year Bundaberg produced the largest share of the nation's macadamia crop and is now known as the biggest macadamia growing region in the country.
"Around 75 per cent of the macadamias processed by Pacific Gold is exported to China, South East Asia, Japan, Europe and the United States and thanks to the Free Trade Agreements there is more demand than ever from these markets," Mr Pitt said.
This season is expected to bring record returns to the industry as Queensland's production of macadamia is expected to be worth $140 million in 2016-17 - 17% higher than the final estimate for 2015-16 and almost double the average for the past five years.
"The main thing about the Bundaberg region is we've got the available water that gives quality and quantity and keeps the trees going in the dry," Mr Johnson said.
"A lot of other areas in Australia don't have irrigation.
"That's probably why a lot of Asian buyers are coming in and buying up farms because they've got the security of the water."
Pacific Gold's Wishlist
WITH the region in the midst of a macadamia boom, Pacific Gold Macadamias general manager Shane Johnson took the Treasurer's visit as an opportunity to mention his wishlist to make the local industry more competitive.
He wants the State Government to again allow commercial rail freight from Bundaberg.
"I have to get a container up from Brisbane on a semi-
trailer, load it up here, and send it back to Brisbane," he explained.
"Sometimes we fill four to five a day.
"For my competitors in northern NSW it costs them half as much, because they're closer.
"Seven or eight years ago, we had a small factory at Winfield and we'd bring containers to Bundaberg and put them on the rail.
"Now, it's much more costly to do it."
The other major concern at the plant is electricity, he said.
"Our bill is huge. We're at our limit.
"I'm looking at solar."