Buyers stick with organic macadamias
From the May 2006 edition of Agriculture Today.
When Alan and Christine Hodgkinson bought a run-down organic macadamia orchard on the NSW North Coast six years ago they were open minded about whether to continue as organic growers or to go conventional.
'What appealed to us at the time was the fact we didn’t have to use chemicals and that we didn’t need as much machinery, especially a large tractor and an airblast sprayer,' said Alan.
'And it still appeals to us, six years later,' he said.
So far, the main challenges of managing weeds and avoiding pest insect damage have proven achievable, and the Hodgkinsons are enjoying the rewards of a successful rejuvenation of their 38 hectare farm, half under trees, at Federal, near Bangalow.
'When we took over, the yield was just two tonnes and we’ve had it up to 57 tonnes the year before last,' Alan said.
The trees are responding to a fertiliser program of Dynamic Lifter and rock phosphate, and orchard health continue to rise.
'Sure, our mowing costs are higher because we don’t use herbicides but our chemical and spraying costs are way down,' he said.
'And while it’s hard to know whether our nut yield would be higher under a different system, we certainly manage to get a price premium averaging about 10 per cent for supplying a certified BFA organic product.'
Farm consultant Cliff James of Northcoast Macadamia Management said the Hodgkinsons were fortunate their farm had been setup originally for organic production.
'It has the right orchard layout and good varieties for organic production,' he said.
'The gentle slopes, wide tree spacings and the fact there are no V-drains along the rows means Alan can criss-cross mow and harvest.
'And the varieties planted - mostly 246, 508 and H2’s - are older varieties with thicker shells, with good resilience against pests and diseases,' he said.
'The selection of varieties and the layout of your farm are the two most crucial things to consider when growing organically,' he said.
'Converting an existing farm to organics is very difficult with varieties that are susceptible to pests and diseases - and even harder if tree spacings are close.'
NSW DPI horticulturist Kevin Quinlan said thin-shelled varieties were more susceptible to spotting bug damage and varieties with low husk density suffered more damage from macadamia nutborer.
'Organic growers also need to consider other factors like whether nuts hang in bunches, as this affects insect attack, and the mix of crops that are grown around the farm,' he said.
'As well, varieties that have sticktight problems are more susceptible to husk spot which is difficult to control organically.'
Mr Quinlan said it was important to research the markets for organically grown macadamias and ensure that you can receive a premium for your product, due to the lower production in organic orchards and the work involved in marketing the product yourself.
Currently there are only two certified organic processing facilities.
Mr Quinlan said nutrient supply to grow macadamias or any other horticultural crop organically could be difficult and costly.
'Manures are the major source of macro elements, but they have a low nutrient analysis and so large quantities are needed.
'This makes applying it very time consuming and purchasing enough material is also difficult, as it needs to meet the organic certification guidelines.'
Contact: Kevin Quinlan, Alstonville, 02 6626 2400 or Cliff James, 02 6687 8035.