Market a tough nut to crack

Frank SmithCountryman

Greg Lucas bought his four hectare block in Harvey nearly 20 years ago. At first, he ran cattle, and then 14 years ago he planted 400 macadamia trees on half of the block. The trees are 4.5m apart in 9m rows to allow access for harvesting.

“I like trees to have space. Macadamias are prone to wind damage, so I need to prune every year,” he said. “I use a chainsaw to minimise the number of wounds. Wounds are an invitation to fungi.”

Greg irrigates with a sprinkler between each tree in the row. As the trees grew, he converted the sprinklers in a ‘whizzer’ close to the ground with a three-metre throw.

The block is supplied with Harvey irrigation scheme water, but the supply is not as reliable as when Greg first planted the macadamias.

“It is difficult to budget because of restrictions,” Greg said. “Supplies used to be 70 per cent of allocations in a bad year and 100 per cent in a good year.

“Now, we only get 80 per cent in a good year. This year it is 34 per cent. Normally, I sell off part of my allocation.”

Greg sells his nuts through the Peel Farmers Market and to a processor.

“I grew 4.5 tonnes last year and sold 2.5 tonnes to the processor,” he said. “I sell them in the shell. It is too much trouble to deal with health regulations if I were to shell and process them.”

But that creates a problem — it is impossible to be certain that all nuts are sound. Those that fall prematurely from the tree can be shrivelled.

There are about 100 nuts in a kilogram. Greg also roasts some in their shells.

People are not the only ones that like macadamia nuts. Parrots and cockatoos do too.

“Black cockatoos are the main problem,” Greg said. “They come into the orchard and won’t leave until there are no nuts left. They only eat half the nuts. They can’t open the others.”

Nuts that birds pull off the tree and discard are not fully ripe and the kernel is jelly-like, full of water, not oil. When they drop to the ground, the kernels dry out and wither. “We lose 10 to 20 per cent in a bad year,” Greg said.

Cockatoos also cause damage to trees and bite through irrigation pipes to get to water. “It takes two people two days to fix the sprinklers and costs around $200 in replacement parts,” Greg said.“I don’t like using bird scarers, because we are too close to the neighbours. Hitting the ground with a length of polythene pipe is most effective, but they leave and come back in 10 minutes.”

When ripe macadamia nuts fall to the ground, Greg picks them up with a sweeper to keep the area under the trees bare. He puts the nuts through a dehusking machine and into a drying silo before sale.

Greg has planted three macadamia varieties to help spread the harvest and to use as pollinators. They are Hawaii 344, 246 and Australian A38.

The early varieties are ready in May or June, and Greg starts to strip pick the trees from October to November to minimise damage from birds.

He feeds his trees with superphosphate and potato E fertilisers.

“Macadamias are not the easiest crop to grow. It is hard to estimate yield before harvest,” Greg said.

“There are no pests and I’ve never had to spray. I am not certified organic, because I need to use glyphosate to control weeds and super phosphate fertiliser. I also sometimes use phosphoric acid as a fungicide.

“There should be two different categories — pesticide-free and organic.”

Greg also has several prolific pawpaw trees in a plastic hothouse. They started small but are getting too big for the hothouse.

He sells tree-ripened pawpaws at the Peel market. He also sells some green for use in Asian salads.

“People keep coming back for more,” he said. “You can also use them in cooking; pieces of pawpaw help tenderise meat.

“Commercial pawpaws are cut while they are still green. They are much nicer when they are tree ripened. The redder the flesh, the better the taste.”

Greg also has a two hectare citrus orchard, which has been running for two years, and runs Korijekup Citrus Nursery, which he has had for 10 years.

His main crop is Mystique, a variety of tangor, which he sells at the market. It is a cross between a mandarin and an orange.

The cross occurred naturally in the Caribbean and was imported by the original owner of Greg’s nursery business.

In the citrus nursery, Greg buds citrus onto trifoliate rootstock. He has six varieties of mandarins, limes and bergamot. At present, he sells trees mainly to commercial growers.

In addition to looking after 400 macadamia and 2000 citrus trees and a nursery, Greg is bringing up three boys and working at Worsley Alumina.

Perhaps it is not a good idea to ask what he does in his spare time?

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