The macadamia industry is being challenged by local chemical-free farmer David Forrest to go organic, following his success in an industry where less than three per cent of macadamias are farmed organically.
The Australian macadamia industry, worth over $100 million annually, is the world’s largest provider and exporter of macadamia nuts.
Growers in the northern New South Wales region are behind almost 65 per cent of these exports, injecting up to $70 million into the local economy each year, according to the NSW department of primary industries.
This makes it one of the regions’ largest economies.
The Australian Nut Industry also says that northern NSW takes the lion’s share of the nationwide output, with 2011 figures saying it is worth $105 million per year.
But despite the size of this market, only 2.5 per cent of the Australian macadamia nut industry has made the move to become organic, according to the Macadamia Society’s own figures.
Mr Forrest is an exception to this rule, describing himself as ‘one of the early pioneers of the organic macadamia nut industry’.
Forrest, owner of Organic Forrest, a family company located in Lismore, has been in the organic farming business for the past 30 years.
Reducing reliance on chemicals
He has made a name for himself as a quality supplier in the region, through his championing of sustainable methods of production, with his farm currently involved in a series of scientific trials of native wasps aimed at reducing reliance on chemicals and pesticides.
Macadamia crops, notorious for producing significantly lower yields than other nuts, are plagued by bugs such as the nutborer moth.
‘Organic farming provides a more environmentally friendly and sustainable approach to deterring such pests,’ Mr Forrest told Echonetdaily.
‘The important thing is to not risk the health of my family, friends and buyers.’
Mr Forrest is currently trialling three species of native wasps including the Trichogramma and Anastatus wasps, influenced by the success of trials conducted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries in Alstonville.
The project is funded partially by the Australian Macadamia Society (AMS) through the federal government’s Research and Development Levy.
All macadamia growers are subject to this levy, collected on behalf of the Levies Revenue Service (LRS).
The levy then goes to the National Residue Survey (NRS) for residue testing and to Horticulture Australia Ltd (HAL), who in turn administer the levy on behalf of the federal government according to their industry strategic plan and the Industry Advisory Council’s (IAC) recommendations.
Funds collected from this levy are then channelled into marketing and promotion, and research and development (which is matched dollar for dollar by the federal government).
This process is currently under review.
AMS announced in 2010 that they would release nearly $1 million dollars towards research and management of major diseases in the Australian macadamia industry over a five-year period.
This was, as they suggested, ensuring the continued success of the Australian macadamia industry, with the macadamia being Australia’s only native product to be developed and exported commercially as a food crop.
The follows predictions from the CSIRO that the Australian tree-nut industry will double in size over the next eight years, becoming Australia’s largest horticulture exporter.
Hawaii is Australia’s next biggest competitor in terms of exports of macadamia nuts.
Gerard Harris is studying journalism at the University of Queensland.