Guito Conte of Tregeagle, on his farm and about to talk to a group from the Australian Macademia Society, how he employed successful growing techniques over the years. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star
Guito Conte of Tregeagle, on his farm and about to talk to a group from the Australian Macademia Society, how he employed successful growing techniques over the years. Photo Mireille Merlet-Shaw / Northern Star Mireille Merlet-Shaw

Macadamia farmer chops half his trees, hits paydirt

EIGHT years ago, faced with rock-bottom macadamia prices and a declining harvest, maca farmer Guido Conte made a drastic move which could have cost him the farm.

He chopped down half of his precious macadamia trees, sacrificing every second row.

At that time macadamia properties were valued on their number of trees so most farmers would barely contemplate the idea.

But Mr Conte had nothing to lose.

Back then macas were fetching about $1.40 a kilogram and his orchard was in serious decline, falling to two tonnes of harvestable nuts a hectare.

Mr Conte reasoned that cutting every second row out might let the surviving trees expand their canopies and ultimately produce more nuts.

"I thought 'what have I got to lose'," he said.

TWO WORDS: Tregeagle macadamia farmer Guido Conte talks about his production techniques during a Australian Macadamia Society tour of his farm.
TWO WORDS: Tregeagle macadamia farmer Guido Conte talks about his production techniques during a Australian Macadamia Society tour of his farm. Mireille Merlet

The big gamble paid off.

Within four years his trees were producing four tonnes per hectare and today they produce five tonnes per hectare - 250% of their former production.

"In total, it's gone up to producing 10 tonnes from four tonnes," Mr Conte said.

He left a few rows of trees in their original state and the difference is stark.

The new orchard's big, round canopies are flowering from top to bottom but the old orchard is decrepit.

Where green grass grows underfoot in the new orchard, the old has bare dirt.

"Here I've got grass, so I'm protecting my topsoil," Mr Conte said.

"Up there (pointing to the old orchard) I'm picking up one and a half to two tonne a hectare, down here I'm picking up five," he said.

Mr Conte was one of the pioneers and many farmers are following suit.

His success was the reason more than 200 fellow macadamia farmers visited his property during field trips organised by the Australian Macadamia Society on Saturday and last Thursday.

AMS spokesman Robbie Commens said the local industry was to enter a decade of prosperity after a tough few years.

"We're in the final stages of going from a boutique industry to a professional industry," Mr Commens said.

A strategic decision made by the industry 20 years ago to focus mainly on exports was finally paying off, with the current farm gate price of $4.50 per kg an indicator of unmet overseas demand.

In 2015 a record harvest of 47,000 tonnes is expected, 70% bound for the export market.

"Historically US and Europe have been our main markets, but now Asia is our biggest market," Mr Commens said.

"It's the Asian Century, and we're in a great position to benefit from it," he said.

"Australia is absolutely the world leader and it's a $100 million local industry here on the Northern Rivers."

And these days properties are valued on their production per hectare, not their number of trees.



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