Realising a dream of macadamias
PEOPLE are genuinely interested in growing a crop that’s good for the environment, says Vanessa Hayes, co-owner of Torere Orchard on the East Coast, who, with partner Rod Husband, have seen their macadamia nut business triple since it featured on Country Calendar three months ago.
“It has just gone crazy,” says Vanessa. Nuts you might say.
Following their television debut, the phone rang off the hook, e-mails poured in and couriers were non-stop as product headed out the door.
Vanessa says she, Rod and their team of family and staff only just kept up, falling in to bed exhausted at the end of each day.
Now it is a new normal as business has plateaued at the highest level it has ever been, with a total sellout of plants.
But Vanessa is not surprised.
The macadamia nut, and all its benefits as a crop and a food, has been something she has quietly and methodically researched for 30 years now.
It is a dream realised, and this business boom had all been planned for.
GISBORNE: NZ’S MACADAMIA NUT CAPITAL
Torere Orchard is 25km from Opotiki, towards the East Cape.
Last year the nursery doubled from 5000 to 10,000 plants and over the next three months that will become 30,000 plants in the nursery.
The nursery side of the operation, grafting the new trees, will triple over the next three months.
Vanessa is confident Torere will meet the unprecedented demand for plants as new growers come on board from Hawke's Bay, Northland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, replacing maize, grapes and dairy farms.
“I planned for this,” she says.
There has also been interest from business people who didn’t want to just be growers, but could see the commercial returns of the booming macadamia nut industry and wanted in on this valuable nut that New Zealand imports 150 tonnes of a year.
Vanessa has always wanted the Gisborne region to benefit from her research, and it will. Future plans include a processing facility here that will create employment and make Gisborne the macadamia hub of New Zealand. Vanessa says everything has tripled over the past few months — interest from growers, sales at Gisborne’s weekly farmers’ market, field-day attendance and product sales.
WHY ARE THE NUTS SO POPULAR?
Macadamia is a nut of high-dollar value, so it ticks the commercial box. As a crop, the trees are great because they do not need chemicals so can be planted close to waterways with zero impact on the environment, and they tick the organic box without even trying. They do not need irrigation and as a nut, they are not only delicious but really good for you.
One of Tairawhiti’s first major growers, Nikki Searancke, has just planted 300 trees on land at Nuhiti Q Tolaga Bay. By March 2018, it will have increased to 500 trees, or one hectare.
Nikki says people are curious and excited about the new crop, “mind you, who doesn’t like macadamias”.
“The varieties grown by Torere Macadamias are well-suited climatically to our Tairawhiti coastal conditions. While most buyers select the chocolate-coated nuts, macadamia nut uses are multiple, from nut spreads to a crumb coating for fish, to extracting oil and milk.
“We intend to plant over 2000 trees over the next three years, a total of 4.5 hectares. The first crop of nuts will begin being commercially harvested in three years. The future for the macadamia industry here in Tairawhiti is very promising, with processing our nuts locally in Gisborne.”
Nikki says they needed to diversify from the traditional farming of sheep and beef.
Climate change and the need to reduce emissions were all part of the decision. It’s an environmental issue for Te Matarae o te Wairoa Trust.
Trustee Richard Allen says the low impact macadamia trees have on the environment is unique.
Their orchard will be beside a freshwater crayfish endeavour also in the planning, and because no sprays or chemicals are used, it won’t affect the waterways.
Another reason is that the plants are high in UMF and the macadamia flowers six weeks before manuka, so they can extend their honey season.
But Richard says the biggest reason is Vanessa Hayes herself.
“Vanessa talks the same talk, has the answers and shares her knowledge.”
The reasons match those of all the growers who are looking to turn fields of maize, grapes or other crops on to macadamia.
Back in Gisborne, Gwen and Duncan Bush pulled out grapevines on their Makaraka vineyard after 19 years and switched to macadamias.
“After a meeting with Vanessa, we signed up for our first 450 trees on the spot.
“As an active retired couple, there seems to be just the right amount of work (with a bit of help from friends) and mental stimulation to make macadamias a great crop for us to grow.”
Out at Ormond, Mark and Amanda O’Sullivan say they are excited about their journey within the macadamia industry.
“Our land is quite hilly so we wanted to utilise the one hectare of hillside we have. Cropping was out of the question, so we looked into different types of productive trees that would give us some income in our retirement years.”
Sam Jones is the managing director of a farm owned by the Jones and Craig families.
Their 275-hectare dairy farm is in the process of diversifying suitable land into horticulture.
“There are parts of the horticulture development that are too steep for kiwifruit and avocados and are not accessible for grazing any longer. These are the areas that we are trialling for macadamias on an area of approximately half a hectare. The leaf drop from the macadamias should form a mulch over time that will suppress the grass and weeds. A bonus should be a crop of macadamia nuts, which we are going to sell back to Torere Macadamias.”
THE CO-OP — STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
So, how it works is that the growers all share together. Vanessa has been sitting on the co-op structure for almost as long as she has been researching the macadamia nut.
“We want everybody together to get the industry going because it’s important to all of us. People are genuinely interested and can help get the industry to that level.”
New growers want to be part of the co-op, where they have input into the marketing and development of the industry.
It’s about getting it right the first time.
Tree orders are now limited to 500, so Vanessa can help everybody get started.
There is a two-year lapse from the time trees are ordered to the time Torere can deliver.
When asked if she is worried about competition, Vanessa is unfazed.
“We are the only ones who can supply trees.”
Not only is there the two-year time lapse but Vanessa has built up the best varieties imported from around the world. For anyone to catch up, there would be a lengthy wait with quarantine.
“There is no competition because everyone is in the same boat and everyone is just going to have to wait.
“But it’s a real buzz at the moment. This is my dream.”
What has been a bit tricky is the financial side. Until the orders are completed, there is limited cashflow. Torere requires enormous amounts of potting mix — truck and trailer-loads of it. And all those outgoings have to be paid for until the trees are delivered in two years. To compensate, Vanessa has asked new growers to be on board with timed payments.
THE BIG UNVEILING
Vanessa’s attendance at a symposium for macadamia nut growers in Hawaii was like a big unveiling. “Absolutely mind-blowing.”
Held in September, the symposium was opened by a Hawaiian mayor who said New Zealand was a country to aspire to because of our environmental protection of native birds, trees and plants.
Vanessa was proud when he added that only one country in the world protected its cultural identity and that was New Zealand.
Chinese macadamia nut researcher Rui Shi has been working in New Zealand. At the conference, part of her presentation was that she had found the best and biggest macadamia nuts in the world, at no other than Torere Orchard, and up on the screen flashed a picture of some very big nuts.
Vanessa said all of a sudden the focus was on her and she fielded a lot of questions.
But not only was the success of Torere Orchard an unveiling to the rest of the world, but also to New Zealand. Representatives from New Zealand Plant and Food who were there had no idea Vanessa had been growing and researching macadamia varieties in New Zealand for decades. They had instead been working closely with Australian growers.
Rather than be miffed at being overlooked, Vanessa is quietly amused and just grateful they are now on board.
NZ PLANT AND FOOD
A research and development collaboration is now under way between NZ Plant and Food, Massey University and Vanessa. A panel will verify the nutritional value of the nut and its anti-bacterial properties, oil content and quality.
These are things Vanessa has a pretty good idea of after her years of research, but scientific backing is crucial for the future of the industry.
Vanessa believes her nuts are tastier because they have a higher sugar content.
“Whether that's good or not — they taste amazing.”
OIL, HONEY, MILK, SO MANY USES
Vanessa is happy to finally have a beekeeper on board to produce their first macadamia honey. The flowers on the trees are not only beautiful but Vanessa believes the properties of this honey will rival manuka.
The next honey research stage will cost around $8000. Then there is research into the quality and quantity of the kernels and oil for each of Torere's exclusive varieties that produce betyween April and December. This range of harvest times provides options so big farms can diversity without disrupting other farming operations.
It is all a dream realised after 30 years of hard work. Vanessa and Rod can now make this industry a Gisborne/East Coast success story.