Going Nuts: Favourable Times for Australian Macadamia Growers

Commanding an average price of $6000 / tonne at the farm gate, Macadamia nuts are one of the most valuable crops grown in Australia. 

That’s a primary motivator for the Anderson family at Bundaberg, who have planted 36,000 macadamia trees to date, with a target of 50,000 by 2019. Traditionally sugar cane growers, the Andersons have been battling the increased electricity costs associated with irrigating and falling sugar prices. Last year, the farm gate price for sugar was just $39 / tonne.

The Australian macadamia industry produces around 50,000 tonnes annually, with 23,000 tonnes coming from Bundaberg – the single largest growing region in the country. Production of the nut has doubled in the Bundaberg region over the last few years, signalling a confident outlook by the supply chain.

Increased production is putting pressure on domestic processing plants. Processor and distributor Pacific Gold – also in Bundaberg – currently processes around 11,000 tonnes per year. Almost at capacity now, the company is planning on an expansion to double its handling capabilities, to be completed in the next five years.

Family-owned Macadamias Australia is also investing in the industry, injecting $22 million into processing plant and tourism centre in Bundaberg. Macadamias Australia currently exports their own grown produce to China, and has a farm gate tasting experience attracting international tourism.

Dates In Demand

Australian dates are also in demand, with Australian producers in a unique position. Demand from Middle East countries is high when their local stocks are depleted, with buyers looking to Australian suppliers to fill the gap.  

“There’s a huge market for them, and we get calls all the time from the Middle East because we are in the southern hemisphere,” said Ben Wall, a date Farm Manager from near Alice Springs.

“There are 2 billion Muslim people [for whom] dates are an important part of the culture, [so] we can sell anything we can grow, really.”

The Desert Fruit Farm is the only commercial scale date plantation in the Northern Territory with around 700 date trees on 6 hectares. Last year they exported two tonnes of dates to the middle east, with the remainder of their crop sold domestically.

As well as it’s cultural significance, dates are highly nutritious and offer an alternative to sugar, gaining interest from health food producers and retailers.

But South Australian date grower Dave Reilly is concerned that domestic interest in dates could lead to cheap imported dates being available on shelves in Australia.

Biosecurity Australia is presently reviewing an application for fresh dates to be imported from Africa and the Middle East, which is concerning for the Australian date industry.

“That will totally change dynamics,” he said.

“For example, we pay our staff $25 an hour and we’ll be competing with countries that pay US$1 an hour, so its going to be very difficult to compete.”

Sources: ABC, ABC
Image: “Macadamia Closeup” by feffreyl is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 

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