Fu­ture pos­i­tive for wal­nut grow­ers

The Orchardist - - Profile - By Ge­off Lewis Photos Tre­for Ward

The Piron­gia cou­ple are among sev­eral par­tic­i­pants in wal­nut grow­ing tri­als through­out New Zealand whose joint ef­forts are cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive fu­ture for the in­dus­try.

Ros and Nick bought 17 one-acre sec­tions in the old Waikato fron­tier town in the mid-1980s. Self-de­scribed ‘ap­plied ecol­o­gists and do-ity­our­selfers’ they set about plant­ing a va­ri­ety of crops – chest­nuts, pine nuts, figs, al­monds, hazel­nuts, arguta (kiwi berries), her­itage plums and about the year 2000, wal­nuts.

Nick is a lo­cal who grew up in nearby Pokuru. Among other things he stud­ied cli­ma­tol­ogy and ecol­ogy at Lin­coln while it was still an agri­cul­tural col­lege. Ros is a pro­fes­sional ar­chi­tect and re­tired last year from teach­ing at the Waikato In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

Their orig­i­nal hold­ing has been shaved down to just over six acres and where once they were out in the coun­try they are now slowly be­ing swal­lowed by hous­ing – some of the new sec­tions sport large chest­nut trees planted by the Emp­sons many years ago.

Mem­bers of the Waikato Branch of the New Zealand Tree Crops As­so­ci­a­tion (NZTCA) for 30 years, the cou­ple have taken part in a two-stage trial of wal­nut va­ri­eties. Be­gin­ning in 2005 the first stage aimed to dis­cover the sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to blight of Road­side 12, Fran­quette, Serr, Rex, Shan­non and Wa­haroa va­ri­eties. Con­cluded in 2010, the trial dis­cov­ered that the Shan­non va­ri­ety was most re­sis­tant to blight in the Waikato. Other va­ri­eties suf­fered, to lesser or greater ex­tent, blight to the nuts and leaves.

Their sec­ond trial, now in its third year, is to mon­i­tor the up­take of the trace el­e­ment boron. Boron is a toxic chem­i­cal but plays a vi­tal role in cell dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in the trees’ grow­ing tips. Too lit­tle boron leads to a con­di­tion known as ‘Snakes Head’ or bare stems. It can also re­sult in de­for­mity of the wal­nut shell, rot, and loss of crop.

The Piron­gia prop­erty is fer­tile and set on pumice sand, river silt and Horotiu clay loam. The trial started with soil tests an­a­lysed by Hills’ Lab­o­ra­to­ries in Hamil­ton, to de­ter­mine the nat­u­ral level of boron, Nick ex­plained.

“To me it is fas­ci­nat­ing to see how dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties ex­hibit signs of boron de­fi­ciency. Where boron was found to be de­fi­cient, we have used a slow-re­lease or­ganic treat­ment called Or­gani­bor which in­cluded boron, cal­cium and mag­ne­sium. Cal­cium is the trucker of all min­er­als, and boron is the steer­ing wheel.”

A small pro­ducer, the Emp­sons’ crop to­tals about 500kg a year and is sold through car boot sales, Face­book con­tacts and un­til re­cently Ooooby. Wal­nuts crop about the same time in

April even though the dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties Grow­ing in the eastern Bay of Plenty near will flower at dif­fer­ent times. The North Opotiki, Nick Nel­son-Parker is also a Amer­i­can Serr va­ri­ety is early to flower, mem­ber of the NZTCA, Wal­nut In­dus­try while Fran­quette comes in last. Va­ri­eties Group and the New Zealand Farm of wal­nut are spread around the globe, Forestry As­so­ci­a­tion. A trained forester, from North and South Amer­ica to he made the de­ci­sion early in life to get Asia and Eastern Europe. Most of the in to wal­nuts for the nuts and tim­ber. tra­di­tional wal­nuts that came to New His old­est stand dates back to the 1970s Zealand were called English wal­nut with va­ri­eties se­lected from the United al­though they are not na­tive to Bri­tain. States, Canada, Hol­land, France, China and

Aus­tralia and New Zealand

''Wal­nuts are a de­mand­ing crop.They need the right cli­mate and soil, which is why Cal­i­for­nia pro­duces such a large por­tion of the world crop. When the Tree Crops As­so­ci­a­tion started look­ing at wal­nuts, it was dis­ap­pointed that the Cal­i­for­nian va­ri­eties did not do well here. The ques­tion was, could we pro­duce wal­nuts of ad­e­quate qual­ity in New Zealand?

''We thought it would be a mat­ter of find­ing the right va­ri­ety, but we dis­cov­ered it was also a mat­ter of good har­vest­ing and dry­ing (the nuts). Hav­ing the right va­ri­ety is im­por­tant for or­chard and pro­cess­ing prof­itabil­ity.

''Wal­nuts need a free drain­ing soil. The Cal­i­for­nian wal­nuts need only about 800mm of rain a year and a lit­tle rain dur­ing spring and early sum­mer, dur­ing flow­er­ing and early nut­let de­vel­op­ment. Hence the search for types that bet­ter han­dle our con­di­tions and have ad­e­quate nut qual­ity. A fur­ther con­straint is that flow­er­ing is ini­ti­ated by a cold win­ter while the tree is dor­mant, but the leaves are frost ten­der, so out of sea­son frosts can be dev­as­tat­ing. Most peo­ple have set­tled on Can­ter­bury to es­tab­lish wal­nut or­chards in New Zealand.''

Nick Nel­son-Parker said that after cli­mate and soil, method of har­vest is the next most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion and this is of­ten de­ter­mined by to­pog­ra­phy.

''Most peo­ple plant on flat ground and use cus­tomised ma­chin­ery in­clud­ing tree shak­ers to har­vest the nuts. We hand har­vest us­ing nets un­der the trees. Be­ing able to han­dle the crop quickly is as much of a con­sid­er­a­tion as cost. Al­though the nuts drop over a cou­ple of months, most come down in big dumps which have to be gath­ered and dried within a few days. The quicker a wal­nut is dried the bet­ter the taste.''

Wal­nuts get bac­te­rial blight. Blight can be con­trolled with sprays but this adds to costs. They are prone to Phy­toph­thora, which is why they need free drain­ing soil. They can also get codlin moth, de­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety. The other ma­jor prob­lem for wal­nut grow­ing is time. It takes seven to 10 years for the trees to come into bear­ing. ''It is easy to get caught up in the ar­gu­ment about which va­ri­ety is best. But there are many break­throughs that grow­ers have made re­cently that add up to a much

more re­al­is­tic in­dus­try.''

Nick said that the wal­nut in­dus­try had been for­tu­nate in hav­ing a long and sta­ble pe­riod of in­creas­ing lo­cal de­mand for the prod­uct which had al­lowed it to

es­tab­lish the in­dus­try on firm foun­da­tions.

''I think the fu­ture looks very bright. Lo­cal de­mand for wal­nuts is strong be­cause of the health ben­e­fits. The New Zealand Wal­nut In­dus­try Group is con­duct­ing a se­ries of va­ri­ety tri­als and have im­ported three va­ri­eties from Tas­ma­nia. If the re­sults are any­thing like what we are get­ting from NZ Tree Crops As­so­ci­a­tion va­ri­ety tri­als on our place, we are on the verge of a whole new raft of va­ri­eties be­ing avail­able, crop­ping heav­ier and be­ing less sus­cep­ti­ble to dis­ease.''

Mean­while, de­spite ap­palling weather this sea­son, Nick Nel­son-Parker came away with half a crop – noth­ing like the fail­ure that was pre­dicted, with a good crop from his own se­lected va­ri­eties.

New Zealand Wal­nut In­dus­try Group chair­man Nel­son Hub­ber came from a sheep farm­ing back­ground and got into wal­nuts in 2002 when he planted 900 trees on his Can­ter­bury prop­erty not far from Frank and Mar­garet Bren­muhl, New Zealand's sin­gle largest wal­nut grow­ers with around 4,500 trees.

The Wal­nut In­dus­try Group has about 80 mem­bers spread from the Eastern Bay of Plenty to Wanaka. Nel­son Hub­ber’s prod­uct is pro­cessed nearby at the co-op fac­tory at West Mel­ton which han­dles about 200 tonnes a year.

''The big ma­jor­ity of wal­nut grow­ing is in the South Is­land as wal­nuts pre­fer a drier, cooler cli­mate. About a third of the crop goes into man­u­fac­tured goods in New Zealand in­clud­ing in­gre­di­ents in bis­cuits, cakes, oil, wal­nut pieces and the foodie niche mar­ket.

''Wal­nut grow­ing is a good, en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive in­dus­try with a good long-term fu­ture. It takes ages to get a crop, but the trees can last more than 120 years. Cur­rently New Zealand pro­duces about 200 tonnes but that is likely to in­crease to about 600 tonnes in the next five to seven years. Cur­rently these is no ex­port, but our co-op­er­a­tive is look­ing at more so­phis­ti­cated pro­cess­ing as the quan­ti­ties in­crease.''

The world's ma­jor pro­duc­ers are Cal­i­for­nia at about 600,000 tonnes a year and China at around 870,000 tonnes, Nel­son said.

Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion can be ob­tained from the wal­nut grow­ers' web­site https://wal­nuts.org.nz and the pro­mo­tional

web­site https://wal­nut­splease.nz.

Jar­ron McInnes, Bay of Plenty T.E.C.T All Ter­rain Park Man­ager and Tri­max cus­tomer is tasked with turn­ing 4,000 acres of for­est into a multi-ac­tiv­ity ad­ven­ture park sport­ing mo­tocross, horse-rid­ing and high rope course ac­tiv­i­ties - a project never com­pleted be­fore in New Zealand. “Our ground is un­du­lat­ing, its rough, it’s hard con­di­tions.We’re talk­ing stumps, stones and gorse. We’ve tried a few dif­fer­ent mod­els, now we’ve got the best – the War­lord just goes right through it.”

Tri­max Mow­ing Sys­tems is a New Zealand Based com­pany which grew up in the Ki­wifruit in­dus­try in the early 80’s and are proud to say their mow­ers have the high­est up­time and low­est main­te­nance costs in the in­dus­try. The War­lord’s unique prun­ing guide, dis­charge con­trol sys­tem and ease of ser­vic­ing are just some of the fea­tures rais­ing the mulcher into a class of its own.

Spe­cially de­signed for or­chard and de­mand­ing ter­rain ap­pli­ca­tions the War­lord S3 has a dou­ble skinned heavy-duty body plus a ro­bust three-point link­age mount­ing frame. The in­ter­nal body, re­place­able via 8 bolts, gives an ad­di­tional 12mm on the im­pact zone, re­duc­ing dam­age on the outer body and ex­tend­ing mower life. The high strength, heavy walled ro­tor and high ca­pac­ity belt drive en­sure longevity of the cut­ting sys­tem and roller bear­ing pro­tec­tor caps come stan­dard.

One of the many se­crets of the War­lord’s suc­cess is the ex­clu­sive Tri­max Gamma™ flail. Its straight cut­ting edge pro­duces a per­fectly even cut height with clip­pings finely chopped and dis­persed be­hind the mower. With smaller flails than other mulchers, and more of them, the Gamma™ flails spread the load evenly over the ro­tor. The smaller flail size pro­vides a cleaner cut and the aero­dy­namic pro­file gen­er­ates suf­fi­cient draught to lift the grass with min­i­mal horse­power.

Coarse­ness of mulch can be con­trolled by the height ad­just­ment of the unique rear dis­charge flap. The finest mulch will be pro­duced with the flap in its low­est po­si­tion. Nor­mal grass mow­ing is car­ried out with the flap in the in­ter­me­di­ate po­si­tions, while ram­pant spring growth and gorse can be man­aged eas­ily with the flap in the high­est po­si­tion. By re­mov­ing two bolts the en­tire rear of the body pan can be ad­justed. Fully open­ing the rear flap also pro­vides un­ob­structed ac­cess for flail in­spec­tion and main­te­nance, a fea­ture non-ex­is­tent on other mulchers.

With hy­draulic side shift, an­other per­for­mance en­hanc­ing fea­ture, ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity around ob­sta­cles and trans­port of the ma­chine is a breeze. Equipped with a the unique Tri­max prun­ing guide, prun­ings and other fo­liage is guided in and un­der the mower which could other­wise go over the front aper­ture, help­ing to elim­i­nate bull­doz­ing. The prun­ing guide also helps keep de­bris away from the hy­draulic sys­tem for pro­tec­tion in chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ments.

The War­lord, which comes in sev­eral sizes and in left and right hand off­sets, has op­tional ex­tras such as heavy duty wear skids ideal for road­side con­trac­tors.

“What used to be a gorse pad­dock is now a nice park set­ting” says Jar­ron from T.E.C.T All Ter­rain Park. “It’s strength and it’s sim­plic­ity, it’s very easy to main­tain. It’s a hard area up here but the fin­ished prod­uct we get looks mar­vel­lous. We’ve got the best now – sim­ple as that.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on the Tri­max War­lord, or to watch the video visit the Tri­max web­site www.tri­max­mow­ers.co.nz

Nick and Ros Emp­son Ro­nan Mil­lar us­ing high pres­sure wa­ter to blast clean the wal­nuts. This al­lows de­fects to be iden­ti­fied and recorded for the trial. As part of the tri­als, the trees are di­vided into five blocks and each block has a coloured num­ber to

From left: Vicky Johnston, Caileigh Mil­lar and Sa­man­tha Emp­son.

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