North East Living Magazine - - Contents - words Steve Kelly pho­tos Marc Bongers

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.

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