After sugar crash, growers look to nutty change
AFTER 123 years of his family farming cane, Koumala grower Graham Matsentore ripped up 18 hectares of cane to plant his orchard of 5500 macadamias.
The macadamia convert said more than a decade after the tree change, he was still harvesting the benefits.
With the macadamia export price in its seventh consecutive year of growth, Mr Matsen said his orchards had sheltered his family from the economic ups and downs of the international sugar price.
Yesterday, Mr Matsen joined more than 25 farmers on a tour of the region’s macadamia orchards and nurseries as part of a two-day Australian Macadamia Society workshop.
Mr Matsen said many of the growers, especially younger farmers, had started looking at macadamias since the sugar price crash.
“The sugar industry is not lending itself to any young farmers,” he said
“If you can grow sugar cane, you can grow a tree”.
For the third generation Wagoora cane grower, Matthew Fox, 26, macadamias were a way to diversify his family’s farm.
Mr Fox said after years of poor growing conditions and low prices his family had lost their joy for sugar.
“Every year we keep going backwards in cane … we have to find something else to make a profit off”
His mother Jill Fox said they were considering converting 20 hectares of cane to macadamias.
“It would be nice to make some money off farming,” she joked.
AMS CEO Jolyon Burnett said the industry was just starting to bloom in Mackay, with six farms yielding macadamias and another dozen with juvenile orchards.
Despite the nuts offering a higher returns per hectare and a stable export price, Mr Burnett said Mackay growers had been slower to adopt macadamias.
For the few Mackay farms producing macadamias, Mr Burnett said they had suffered from below average yields.
While orchards in the south produced an average of three tonnes of macadamias per hectare, Mackay growers were struggling to produce 1-1.5 tonnes per hectare.
He said as farming practices improved harvests, more cane growers would look to convert their paddocks into orchards.
But he and local macadamia growers admit the nuts will not take over the sugar city.
“They’re not going to take the sugar out of Mackay,” Mr Matsen said.