Maca growers count the costs in storm’s aftermath
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.
MUD SLIDE: Sections of the Discovery Group’s Eureka orchard became a torrent, carrying huge amounts of topsoil away from under the trees.