Maca grow­ers count the costs in storm’s af­ter­math

Central and North Burnett Times - - RURAL WEEKLY - . DIGBY HIL­DRETH Digby.hil­dreth@north­ern­star.com.au

MACADAMIA grow­ers in the North­ern Rivers were rel­a­tively un­scathed by the heavy rains and wind that hit as ex-Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Deb­bie swept past.

How­ever, while grow­ing re­gions like Bund­aberg in Queens­land and the NSW Mid North Coast ap­pear to have been largely un­af­fected, there was some crop loss in both south-east Queens­land and the North­ern Rivers and vary­ing de­grees of tree dam­age and loss in those re­gions.

“In the North­ern Rivers, the im­pact of the heavy rain and winds var­ied con­sid­er­ably from or­chard to or­chard, with in­land grow­ing re­gions seem­ingly more af­fected than farms closer to the coast,” Aus­tralian Macadamia So­ci­ety CEO Jolyon Bur­nett said.

Mr Bur­nett said the dam­age had been a mix­ture of wash and ero­sion, root ex­po­sure, tree dam­age, dam­age to roads, fenc­ing and in some cases homes and plant and equip­ment, and that it was too early to as­sess the full ex­tent of the dam­age.

One lo­cal grow­ing en­ter­prise that is still count­ing the cost is the Dis­cov­ery Group, which has eight or­chards, four in Eureka and four around Dunoon, a to­tal of 130,000 trees across 600 hectares.

Alex Young, the di­rec­tor’s as­sis­tant who looks af­ter the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of the com­pany, es­ti­mated the crop loss had been at least 5%.

“In an av­er­age year we can pro­duce 1400 tonne, nut in shell,” Mr Young said.

“It’s hard to es­ti­mate but we think we’ve lost around 78 tonne – a bit more than 5%.”

A con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate of fi­nan­cial loss would be about $350,000, he said.

How­ever, there are still a num­ber of un­knowns.

That mone­tary fig­ure re­lates to the ru­ined nuts and does not take into ac­count the wa­ter degra­da­tion caused to many more, and the sub­se­quent re­duc­tion in price paid by pro­ces­sors.

Then there is the de­lay caused to the har­vest, Mr Young said, which could also have an im­pact down the line.

Tree loss at the Dis­cov­ery prop­er­ties was min­i­mal, Mr Young said – a mere 25 out of 130,000. How­ever, dam­age to drive­ways and soil loss was an­other cost hit, he said.

“We have al­ready brought in 10 truck­loads of road­base – about 100 tonne of rock – and it’s likely we’ll need an­other 15 loads.”

Sec­tions of one of the Eureka or­chards shows signs of se­vere ero­sion, with a gully which had been drive­able be­fore March 31 turned into a creek bed.

Top soil has been washed down and sits up to a me­tre deep be­fore the wa­ter dis­ap­pears un­der a road.

The farm man­agers say it is likely they will bring in a back­hoe to take the rich brown loam back up to the or­chard.

A longer term so­lu­tion is also planned, in­volv­ing the re­moval of trees along the tem­po­rary wa­ter­course, and plant­ing grasses be­low the trees to help hold wa­ter in case of fu­ture storms.

Mr Bur­nett said the na­tional macadamia crop was likely to be re­vised down af­ter the storm.

“The Aus­tralian macadamia crop has been af­fected by Cy­clone Deb­bie and re­cent se­vere weather and is likely to be re­vised to around 52,000 tonnes at 10% mois­ture (48,750 tonnes at 3.5% mois­ture), the same as the 2016 crop,” Mr Bur­nett said.

“Thank­fully, many grow­ers are only in the early stages of har­vest, and most of their crop is still in the trees.

“The main is­sue now is that or­chards will need to be cleaned up again so grow­ers can get back to har­vest.

“This, along with con­tin­ued rain, will cause fur­ther de­lays to crop de­liv­er­ies to the mar­ket.”

Mr Bur­nett added the North­ern Rivers macadamia in­dus­try would also be af­fected be­cause many lo­cal busi­nesses that pro­vide valu­able ser­vice and sup­port to grow­ers and farms had been dev­as­tated by the lo­cal floods.

“Over­all, we ex­pect the crop will be sim­i­lar to last year (52,000 tonnes at 10% mois­ture / 48,750 tonnes at 3.5% mois­ture), with no ma­jor im­pact on qual­ity as long as har­vest can re­sume soon,” Mr Bur­nett said.

PHOTO: DIGBY HIL­DRETH

MUD SLIDE: Sec­tions of the Dis­cov­ery Group’s Eureka or­chard be­came a tor­rent, car­ry­ing huge amounts of top­soil away from un­der the trees.

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