China set to go nuts for macadamias
NORTH TUMBULGUM macadamia farmers Graeme and Laurelle Lawrence could be selling their produce close to double the price once a new trade deal with China is finalised.
Under the Free Trade Agreement the 25% export tariff on nuts will be phased out in the next five years, with the Australian Nut Industry Council projecting this will double the $35 million dollar trade to China.
The Lawrence family represent a small slice of the pie with their 1500-tree orchard, which produces 11 tonnes of macadamia annually to the domestic market through Agri-Mac and their boutique operation Tweed Valley Macadamia.
But, they're looking to double their operations to fulfil a Macadamia Society directive, to source more land and plant more trees, to potentially feed the high volume demands of China, population: 1.35 billion.
"It's alright to say yes we can supply a particular product to China, but you've got to have the size of supply to be a genuine supplier and for that to be a sustainable thing," Mr Lawrence said.
Mr Lawrence is considering a run-down property close to his 80 acres as a "challenge" and to plant another 1000 trees.
He said now is good time for other Tweed farmers to consider macadamia as a viable option.
"This industry has been going for 40 years and we have certainly seen some tough times in the past but now is an exciting time for macadamia farming," Mr Lawrence said.
"It's a wonderful lifestyle - during the winter months from March to August to September, when its harvest, you're busy and during the summer and the spring it's a little more leisurely, with fertilising, pruning and spraying for winds."
It takes four to five years for a macadamia tree to bear and currently the nuts sell for $3.5 - $4.5 for first grade premium, at the farm gate, which Mr Lawrence says is a "healthy" price "to pay the bills".
With a lateral root system it cannot be grown on the flats in place of the sugar cane, which is struggling to stay profitable in an increasing competitive and monopolised international market.
All signs are pointing towards lifts in yields for Australia's macadamias.
The Department of Primary Industries has appointed a new researcher dedicated to finding new nut varieties with 30% more yield available by 2017.