A SPIKE in the price of almonds, rising global demand and a severe drought in California have created arguably Australia's hottest rural property sector.
Almond orchard prices have surged from $25,000 a hectare in 2011 to above $47,000/ha as the almond price has risen from $5 a kilogram to more than $8.50.
With no signs of any easing in drought conditions in California, the world's biggest almond-growing region, world almond prices could surge above $10/kg this year, pushing Australian orchard values even higher.
Almonds are considered a super food, as are chia seeds or blueberries, because research shows they help to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Exports rose from $156 million in March last year to $370 million as of February this year.
Combined with local consumption, this means the industry is worth $500 million and will continue to grow due to demand from India, Australia's biggest export market, accounting for $100 million of sales, and growing Chinese demand.
"We're only really scratching the surface in China. Once they discover the super foods, that $370 million could increase quite significantly," said Colliers International rural agent Jesse Manuel.
Mr Manuel said US investors were among those eyeing up Australian almond orchards.
"They're looking for geographic diversity because of difficult times in California. They need to keep up the supply.
Also interested in almonds, Mr Manuel said, are institutional investors already in the agribusiness space – who are looking for a more passive, leased out investment – and existing operators looking to expand.
"The industry has come a long way. Orchard planting was just under 10,000ha 10 years ago producing around 12,000 tonnes of nuts, now we are nearly at 30,000 ha producing 73,360 tonnes," he said.
Victoria's Sunraysia accounts for more than two-thirds of Australia's groves with smaller plantings in NSW's Riverina, the Swan Region of WA and in South Australia's Adelaide Plains and Riverland.
"We are dealing with a lot of investors interested in the Riverina which will increase the plantings in that State, (while) Victoria will drop back a bit," Mr Manuel said.
The harvest is expected to plateau over the next few years, but Mr Manuel said development between now and 2016 would mean another harvest spike in four to five years.
"We could have between 35,000 and 40,000ha of almond orchards in Australia by 2020."