THE Aussie macadamia is often known as the “king of nuts” - and one of the bigger jewels in this king’s crown is Pacific Farms.
A private, family-run company that harvests tens of thousands of macadamia trees from three farms, Pacific Farms is hidden in the hinterland behind Byron Bay in northern NSW and spreads to the oldest commercial orchard in Australia near Maleny, inland from Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
I worked this year’s harvest for a week alongside a host of very entertaining seasonal workers and saw the inner workings of one of the most advanced macadamia farms and processing plants in the world.
Aboriginal people have been using Australia’s native macadamia nuts for tens of thousands of years, eating them raw, toasting them on hot rocks and, through crushing, extracting the oil for use as a binder for such things as body paint.
Immigrant botanists came across the nut in the 1850s and production and processing have grown slowly since then.
Pacific Farms doesn't just grow nuts, they buy thousands of tonnes from other growers to process (comprising nearly a quarter of the national output) and offer processing to local farmers. They also have their own boutique retail label, for which they enjoy the fruits of value-adding.
The business runs detailed lab-based kernel testing on all incoming product, which gives growers cutting-edge information on their crop.
The harvesting process starts with the very unique piece of machinery that runs off the back of a powerfully-dwarfed John Deere tractor.
The husk-covered ‘nut-in-shell’ falls from the tree naturally and is then picked up with big rollers (like a machine picks up golf balls at a driving range) and then partially de-husked into it into its own small bin.
They’re loaded with a small auger into a chaser bin and transported to the farm for de-husking, which is a mechanical process to get the nut-in-shell ready for processing.
Sam - MAC Nuts v3 from Mick Russell @mickrussell_ on Vimeo
The nuts are then dried to 4 per cent moisture and loaded for China.
Why China? Well Pacific Farms hand-crack their nuts. That’s right, several thousand tonne is cracked one nut at a time, hammer in hand, then graded accordingly.
This gives them a superior quality product that may be purely white (machine cracking leaves that fine brown dust and brings out the oil content) and each nut can be allocated to one of their 11 classes according to colour or size, etcetera.
Pacific Farms has been cracking and grading their nuts in a specialised Chinese factory for over 20 years. The team visits regularly and has worked very hard to set up a world-class facility for their macadamias alongside the other nut processing that takes place there.
Several hundred workers line up along a rather lengthy cast-iron slab next to conveyors - and they literally 'have a crack'.
They’re seeing second- and third-generation workers come through onto the team, which tells me they’re running a very solid show.
Most of the product is exported around the world from China, however, a small percentage is imported back into Australia for their retail business and the upper end of the domestic market.
South Africa, Central America and Hawaii are strong competitors in the global macadamia market.
But with growing demand for food and macadamias only taking up 3pc of the international tree nut market, there’s unlimited potential for our industry here at home, which will only be held back by land availability in the macadamia's native environment.
A big thanks to the Australian Macadamia Society and the team at Pacific Farms who generously opened their farmgate and industry for me to share with you.