BATTLING THE ELEMENTS
Mike Burston and Carol Kunert have endured all nature could throw at them to produce the perfect walnut at their Myrrhee property.
Mike Burston and Carol Kunert have endured all nature could throw at them to produce the perfect walnut.
SOME kind words of advice from a friend seduced Mike Burston and Carol Kunert into the walnut growing business in the mid-1990s. It was a time in horticulture when everyone was getting vines established throughout the King Valley to cater for the growing wine markets, but Mike and Carol wanted to start something different.
Persistence was to ensue at their Myrrhee property throughout the millennium drought, with the couple having their resilience tested by almost everything mother nature could throw at them - water shortages, bushfires, floods and frosts. It took them five years to get their first crop but what they’ve got now is a yield of 32 tonnes this season and this is expected to rise to 90 tonnes when trees reach full maturity at age 40.
They produce a sweet walnut with a pale flesh, which are found in the North East and places like Tasmania. In the Riverina for instance Mike said the walnuts are darker. They’ve even won Australian Fine Food awards and in 2015-16 took out a Delicious Magazine accolade.
Sales of walnuts have grown with certain cultured communities in Melbourne buying direct from King Valley Walnuts. Carol said 70 per cent of their crop is sold wholesale to the Turkish and Arab communities, while 30 per cent is sold to markets, three in Melbourne and four in the North East. Their online shop has been active with people realising the health benefits that walnuts possess.
“Walnuts have omega-3 fatty acids that are good for you and they have lower cholesterol than some other nuts,” she said. In fact one-quarter of a cup of walnuts, for instance, provides more than 100 per cent of the daily recommended value of plant-based omega-3 fats, along with high amounts of copper, manganese, molybdenum and biotin.
The millennium drought took its toll on many farming businesses through the country and those in the valley were not immune. Mike and Carol managed to borrow next door’s water right in 1998 and were fortuitously able to transfer it to the first orchard they planted which had a volume of 700 trees on eight hectares.
The property was previously used for farming hops along the Fifteen Mile Creek and although fruit trees are normally planted closer than 12 metres apart, the couple traded this off from what they’d save in irrigation costs. Another property 12 hectares in size that links to a corner of their farm was then bought and this had a 50 megalitre dam. It was timely during the drought, but they, like thousands of others on the land, ran out of water during the height of severity.
Just before the December 2006 bushfires there was a frost that cost the business $10,000 with fruit on trees less than three metres tall completely wiped out. The fires burnt 7km of fencing on the farm but the underground irrigation system was thankfully not damaged. In 2010 there were major floods with the high water table of the property becoming the Achilles heel for King Valley Walnuts.
But when all is said and done, Mike and Carol’s business decision was a good one, with the climate and terrain proving ideal to grow the perfect walnut. The 2017 harvest started three weeks later than usual but the operation has managed to maintain its high quality of fruit that are now in storage to sell across Victoria and beyond.