The magical macadamia

Whether you eat them raw, roasted or in a recipe, there’s nothing quite like the taste of our native macadamia nuts. Luckily here in South East Queensland we live in macadamia nut country. Macadamia nut harvesting is now in full swing as optimum growth of this beautiful creamy native nut happens between 20-25⁰C – just the cool change we’ve been experiencing of late.

The nut evolved 60 million years ago on the north eastern coast of Australia and thrives on our soil and sub-tropical climate, which create the perfect growing conditions.

Enjoyed by Frist Nations people for thousands of years and after European settlement, the first plantation was established in the 1880s but it wasn’t until much later, in the 1960s, that successful grafting techniques allowed for commercial production to begin.

Today, Australian macadamia nut growers contribute more than 30% of the global crop. It is the only native Australian crop to be developed and traded internationally as a commercial food product.

Macadamia trees take 10-15 years to reach maturity and maximum yield but will generally start producing five years after planting if grafted. Their dark green foliage looks stunning all year round and they will grow to around 12-15m.

From March to September the ripened nuts fall to the ground and are collected via harvester. The dried outer husks are removed within 24 hours of harvest and the process of drying can take up to three weeks. Once the kernel has dried, it shrinks away from the hard shell and is able to be cracked without any damage to the kernel itself.

Local macadamia farmer Peter Boyle grows the native trees on his family farm in Beerwah with his father Ron Boyle. Peter has recently taken over the running of the farm. Traditionally pineapple farmers, the Boyles have been farming in the region for 65 years and introduced macadamias 30 years ago.

“We’re in the thick of harvesting now but the recent wet weather has slowed us down,” Peter said. “It’s perhaps the most challenging harvest season in the past 10-15 years.”

Aiming to harvest every 2-3 weeks, Peter says an increase in harvesting also increases the production of the nut, as the tree works to regenerate. Outer husks need to be removed within 24 hours to begin the drying process to avoid the seed beginning to regenerate. Some machines can begin this process of de-husking immediately.

Peter said that, generally, between 90-95% of the crop would be harvested. However, the time to complete the harvest depends on the machine in use and the type of land the trees are on.

With mechanisation and less labour involved in production, Peter says the macadamia industry has evolved considerably in the past few decades with new people coming on board with new ideas.

“There’s a strong stewardship throughout the industry, with everyone looking at how they can continue to produce more organically,” he said. “In particular, the use of IPM (integrated pest management) for pest management, which aims to target when and what to spray, reduces the need for unnecessary intervention.”

Perhaps the biggest change has been in the past five years, with 25-30% of the crop being exported to China as a nut (in shell). Peter said this had led to a shortage of kernels.

Australia has around 800 macadamia farmers, the majority in the area from northern NSW to South East Queensland, and up to Bundaberg region. Driving around Glasshouse Country you will see we’re home to plenty of the growers of this beloved nut.