Farmers going nuts for macadamias
DRIVING along Palmers Channel South Bank Rd, it is an unexpected sight to see rows and rows of macadamia trees next door to cane fields.
It is a growing trend, with more and more land that was traditionally cane country being converted to land farming the native Australian nut.
The macadamia movement in the valley began nine years ago when Bruce Green decided to begin converting his 20ha Palmers Channel cane farm to macadamias, becoming the first in the Clarence Valley to make the transition.
"It's always been the dream to make a living off the land, and on 20ha you're not going to do that with sugar cane or soya beans, so macadamias were the only way we could do that," he said.
"We've got around 5000 trees on this farm, and 20ha will get us around 80 tonnes in probably another five or six years, and at today's prices that's good money, even if it halves.
"Normally it's about four or five years before you start getting any decent return from a macadamia tree and make any money, and 12 years before you break even, and that's pretty right because you've got to recover all that cost of setting up."
Mr Green said he took a risk by making the conversion to macadamia farming because it hadn't been done before in the Clarence Valley, and not everyone was certain it was going to work.
"We had people looking over the fence at us, and sort of snickering when they saw us planting these macadamias, and now they're seeing that it's viable and we can do it," he said.
"When one hectare of macadamias produce the same income as 20ha of sugar cane, it's worth the risk, if you can go without the money those first few years.
"We did our research when we first started, and we've got a good agronomist, but there were a lot of things here that were new to him too. When we started we didn't know what varieties would work, so we were flying blind a bit."
This year will be the first that Mr Green will sell macadamia seedlings to other farmers in the area, and he said demand for the native nut would continue to grow. "Over the next three years, Palmers Island will have 25,000 trees planted, and there's probably 50,000 trees in the valley," he said.