By S Haslam
The northern rivers is well known for its macadamias, but many people are unaware that there is also a thriving pecan industry in our region. Pecans can be planted in land that is not suitable for macadamias, such as land prone to frost. They are the ‘tough nut’, being quite drought and flood tolerant. A good guide if you’re thinking of starting a pecan farm (and of course it depends on your financial goals), is that 20 hectares or about 4,000 trees will produce approximately 50–60 tonnes of nut in shell annually.
There are about 30 farms in the northern rivers (half the nation’s farms) employing about 100 people. We are the home of the national industry body, whose new executive officer is Anne Briggs (formerly of Northern Rivers Food), although the single biggest national producer is based in Moree.
At the moment the nut industry globally is doing well. Demand for nuts is growing as more people discover their health benefits – they suit people on vegetarian, vegan, paleo or low-carb diets. In fact nutritionists are recommending that we all eat a handful of nuts a day (see www.nutsforlife.com.au for more info), which for pecans is about 15 kernels a day.
Pecans grown locally are almost all organic because we don’t have any pests and diseases that affect them, and so they don’t need to be sprayed. They can also survive flood events and have been known to be okay with ‘wet feet’ for up to 28 days.
In this region plantings are expected to grow by up to 500 per cent in the next five years. In fact our growers can’t grow enough – the main barrier to supply is the long lead time between planting and a profitable crop (it takes about 4–5 years to start producing pecans and about seven years to start to be profitable).
More trees mean more jobs, as the local pecan industry employs more than just farmers; of the pecans grown here, we process about 25 per cent here in the northern rivers. Barefoot Farms at Eltham (Matt and Ash from the Eltham Valley Pantry and Café) are good ‘value adders’; they sell a number of products like dark chocolate and maple-flavoured pecans at their store and cafe, and Tweed Valley Pecans and Nimbin Valley Pecans both sell pecan products at markets and other local outlets.
More info: www.pecangrowers.org.au