Nut farm to take crack at imports

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

WA's biggest commercial walnut orchard is about to get cracking on a bid to take on industry giants in California for a slice of the lucrative nut market.

Manjimup's Omega Walnuts, which has 22,000 trees, is set to produce up to 250 tonnes of nuts a year when the trees come into production in two years.

It's the State's only real commercial foray into walnut production and the orchard's manager, Paddy Elphick, said the company hoped to cash in on burgeoning demand both here and overseas.

Despite a more sizeable industry in Tasmania, Victoria and New South Wales, Australia still imports much of its walnut supplies from the US.

While other horticultural industries are bracing for the impact of import restrictions being eased and the local market being flooded by cheap imports, Omega Walnuts is taking a different path - it's hoping to nurture demand for local nuts in a market already awash with imports.

"It would be nice to be able to compete with Californians on both price and quality," Mr Elphick said.

"Initially our aim will be to try to market locally."

The company has already bought a cracking line from France in a bid to process its own walnuts and sell some as kernel.

The rest of the crop will be sold in shell.

"Walnuts in shell can't be bought in WA without it costing the importer a lot of money because they must be fumigated with methyl bromide," Mr Elphick said.

China's growing taste for walnuts means some of California's walnuts normally destined for Australia are being sent to China.

Mr Elphick said that left Omega Walnuts with an opportunity to fill the gap, either in Australia or overseas.

"It seems at the moment that demand in China is greater than California's ability to supply what they want," he said.

"Californian walnuts are starting to be diverted to China and we would love to export as well, if the price is there.

"The fact that China is starting to plant walnuts is of concern but we are a little bit ahead and we may be able to establish a market … and stay in front of them."

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