By: Teo Spengler
Macadamia trees (Macadamia spp) are native to southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales where they thrive in rain forests and other moist areas. The trees were brought to Hawaii as ornamentals, which led eventually to macadamia production in Hawaii.
If you are wondering when to pick macadamia nuts, you have to wait until they are ripe. Even on one macadamia tree, the nuts don’t all ripen the same week, or even the same month. Read on for more information about macadamia nut harvesting.
So when are macadamia nuts ripe enough for picking? And how do you tell when to pick macadamia nuts? Remember that it takes 4 to 5 years for a tree to bear nuts, then 8 months before a nut ripens, so patience is essential.
To figure out if macadamia nuts are ripe, touch the outside of the macadamia nut. Is it sticky? Don’t start picking macadamia nuts if they are sticky to the touch because they are not ripe.
Another test involves the color of the inside of the macadamia husk. If it is white, don’t start macadamia nut harvesting. If it is chocolate brown, the nut is ripe.
Or try the float test. Unripe macadamia nut kernels sink to the bottom of a glass of water. If the kernel floats, the nut is ripe. Also, ripe macadamia nuts often fall to the ground, so keep a look out.
When you are learning how to harvest macadamia nuts, remember not to shake the tree. It seems that this might be a great way to harvest ripe nuts, but it is also likely to bring down unripe nuts.
Instead, lay a tarp beneath the tree. It will catch fallen ripe nuts, and you can hand pick ripe ones and toss them onto the tarp. Put on gloves before you begin.
Use a tool called a shepherd’s hook or a long pole to dislodge the higher ones.
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Macadamia is a genus of four species of trees indigenous to Australia. Currently, these plants are grown in various regions of the world, namely Brazil, United States (California and Hawaii states), Costa Rica, Israel, Kenya, China, Bolivia, New Zealand, Colombia, Guatemala and Malawi. This plant provides a valuable source of nutrition via a hard shelled nut. This nut is rich in a variety of nutrients like Vitamins B6, B12, and micronutrients, to name a few. They also possess more fats than conventional nuts. These plants are grown for their aesthetic value to spruce up surroundings. Their foliage and flowers provide honey and wood for the locals.
The world is waking up to the importance of organic foods, as per Transparency Market Research. The organic food industry has been pushed to provide innovative options for a population interested in healthy foods. The fitness industry also contributes to this trend. The macadamia market should find a niche for itself over the period of 2020 to 2030 owing to these factors.
A number of market players are involved in the harvest and supply of macadamia nuts to the global population. The presence of such a volume of players makes the global macadamia market fragmented. Some of these players are:
These players plan to increase market outreach by making people aware of the benefits of their supplied organic products. Innovations in food packaging and acquiring minor production facilities are expected to improve demands in the future.
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North America and Europe are currently global leaders in the macadamia market. This can be attributed to the increased acceptance of a healthy lifestyle among the regional population that is demanding organic additives to daily consumption plans. The fitness industry too has gained quite a foothold in these regions owing to an increased social inclination towards health among individuals. Moreover, most productivity of macadamia nuts comes from areas in these regions, making supplies easy.
The Asia Pacific region (APAC) is expected to register the fastest growth in this market in the future. The rising awareness about healthy eating and working out are factors that should contribute to this trend. A hindrance to this growth could be the increasing westernization of local culture that calls for fast lifestyles and an unhealthy focus on work by individuals.
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The Australian Macadamia Society has gathered together some resources to assist growers to make key decisions when it comes to harvest time. These include a new harvest strategy checklist fact sheet, a quick tips and grower experiences information sheet, a video summary of the December 2016 MacGroups (featuring harvest consultant Kerry Sparke), as well as various grower case studies (from macSmart and NSW DPI).
1. Macadamia Industry Fact Sheet: Harvest Strategy Checklist
Planning, preparation, maintenance, flexibility and a clear understanding of what growers want to achieve are crucial ingredients of a successful harvesting strategy. To assist growers navigate through the process of developing their own harvest strategy the AMS has, with extensive input from growers, processors and consultants, developed a range of base line self-assessment questions. Test how confident you are in your harvest strategy and if you can identify any areas for improvement.
2. Macadamia Industry Information Sheet: Harvest Quick Tips and Grower Experiences
Tips for different aspects of the harvest process including orchard, harvester, sweeper and dehusker set-up and maintenance. In addition, grower comments, ideas and experiences from the December 2016 MacGroups were captured and incorporated into this fact sheet.
3. MacGroup ‘Harvest’ presentations (Dec 2016)
MacGroup summary video with Kerry Sparke
Independent harvest consultant Kerry Sparke has over two decades of experience in macadamia harvesting and logistical management. At the MacGroups, Kerry outlined the key aspects of finger wheel harvesters, sweepers, blowers, dehuskers, on farm transport and off farm transport. He also identified minor modifications or changes that can greatly assist the efficiency of a harvester and harvesting system. Here’s a video summary of his talk.
Harvesting and economic losses (Robbie Commens, formerly Macadamia Industry Productivity Development Manager)
Recent research by the NSW DPI and AMS has uncovered concerning levels of losses comparing hand harvesting to mechanical harvesting. A wide range of orchards were involved in the trials with the variances including full grass on the floor, a combination of mulch and grass, no exposed roots, substantial exposed roots, young trees and old mature trees. With data still being analysed we can modestly estimate the difference between hand harvesting and mechanical harvesting yields were approximately 10% representing a concerning level of loss – but also a substantial opportunity! What would an extra 10% of your crop represent? Working on the industry average of 3t NIS/ha and a conservative seasonal price of $5.00/kg it equates to over $1,500 per hectare!
OTHER VALUABLE RESOURCES: MACSMART AND NSW DPI VIDEO CASE STUDIES
These short videos show the modifications that growers have made to their harvesters and harvesting systems.
MacSmart harvest videos
Charles Burgess of McLeans Ridges in northern New South Wales discusses the modifications he has made to his harvester that allow him to dehusk nut while he is harvesting.
Bob Willemse of Alstonville in NSW discusses his innovative harvester modifications designed to improve efficiency.
Rick Paine and Bill Johnstone provide details about the harvesting and post-harvest handling practices they use that make the Merraldan farm successful.
Scott Allcott, Macadamia Farm Management, Kona orchard, Bundaberg
In this video, soil scientist Justine Cox explains the amount and pattern of soil movement caused by sweepers and blowers during harvest. A macadamia grower also talks about how he has changed his orchard floor management and harvesting practice to minimise soil movement under his trees.
For more information on this topic, contact the Macadamia Industry Development Manager Leoni Kojetin (Tel: 02 6622 4933) and/or your harvest consultant.
Planting Outside: Plant your Macadamia Nut Tree in a spot in your yard that receives full sun. If temperatures in your area rise above 80 degrees F, then be sure the plant your tree in a place that gets some shade from hot afternoon temperatures. Find a space that is at least 20′ from any other plants. Plant to the same depth of soil as the container it came in. Make sure the soil is well drained. If you amend the soil with fertilizer, only use slow-release fertilizer tablets. Water deeply immediately after planting.
Container Planting: Choose a container that is 18-24″ in diameter and more than 20″ high. Make sure your container has adequate drainage holes. You can keep your plant outside in the full sun so long as temperatures are between 80 and 40 degrees F. If temperatures rise above this, place the plant in a shaded area. If temperatures rise below 40 degrees F, bring the plant inside near a sunny window.
Watering: For the first 4 years of the Macadamia Tree’s life, or until it begins producing nuts, keep the soil moist, but well-drained. The Macadamia Tree’s roots like water, but do not tolerate flooding. You will likely need to water your plant every other day in the summer.
Fertilization: Add a slow-release fertilizer tablet to the soil every February and September.
Pruning: In early spring, prune the Macadamia Tree as you would an apple tree. Cut off any vertical growing shoots. The ideal shape for the tree is 6-8 vertical branches that are evenly spaced on each side of the tree. This will keep the nuts from weighing down the branches and it will keep the tree healthy.
Pests and Diseases: There should be no pests or diseases on your tree. The Macadamia typically deters all pests and is therefore very disease resistant. Deer do not like Macadamia, so there is not need to fence off your young tree.
Harvesting: Your Macadamia Nuts will likely begin producing by the 4th year and will produce for six months out of the year. Harvesting the nuts will take some observation and practice. The nuts are too ripe when they have fallen from the tree, so you will want to harvest them before they fall. The skins might split open before they fall, letting you know that they are ready to pick. The leaves of prickly, so it is best to wear gloves when harvesting your nuts. When ripe, the clusters will easily detach from the tree. If it takes too much effort, the macadamia is not ready.
Post-Harvest: Remove the husks immediately after harvesting. Let the nuts dry in the sun for 3-4 weeks. When sun drying, cover the nuts at night to prevent dew and moisture from accumulating. Though Macadamia nuts are not easy to crack by hand, the shells should crack easily with a nutcracker. Properly dried nuts will have a brittle shell that cracks with a clean break. If your nuts do not crack in this manner, they are too moist and will need to continue drying. Dried nuts will survive best in the refrigerator or freezer.
That’s still enough to make macadamia nuts Hawaii’s third most valuable crop, after coffee and seed corn. The vast majority of mac nut cultivation in Hawaii happens on the Big Island.
Local farmers brought more than 35,000 pounds of macadamia nuts to market during the 2018-2019 harvest, down from 50,000 pounds the previous cycle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture counts a season as being from July 1st to June 30th of the following year.
The problem with this year’s harvest, as it has been for farmers across the country, was too much rain. Dan Springer, President of the Hawaii Macadamia Nut Association, told HPR that excessive rain starting in the summer of 2018 is the most likely cause of the decrease in macadamia nut yields.
“It gets too wet, for too long, the flowers start to rot on the trees, therefore the nuts never set, therefore the crop is down from what it had been in the past,” Springer said.
In 2018 the rain gauge at the Hilo International Airport measured its third wettest year on record, according to the National Weather Service. The deluge was largely contained to the windward side of the island. Springer said that production was about average at his macadamia nut orchard near South Point.
There was good news mac nut growers. The net farm price for a pound of nuts is at an all-time high, just shy of $1.20 per pound according to the USDA. Springer said that is helping small farms ride out a lackluster harvest, but may not be enough to fully cushion large operations with higher labor costs.
The market price of macadamia nuts has been steadily rising since 2006, when it bottomed out at 67 cents per pound. Springer said farmers have been seeing a steady increase in demand for their product, but there are supply side reasons for the high price as well.
Alyssa Cho, an agriculture researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said it can take the better part of a decade to get new macadamia nut trees planted and mature enough to produce.
“It takes about 2 years from seed to a treed that they can plant in the ground. And then it will take another couple years, usually 4-5 before they start producing,” Cho said.
Although historically high prices are helping insulate farmers from one off year, there is another problem that high prices will not be able to check. An invasive insect from Australia known as the Macadamia Felted Coccid has been found in all of Hawaii Island’s macadamia growing regions according to Cho.
As she puts it, “there is no silver bullet.” Mitigation measures for the Felted Coccid currently consist of pruning trees to encourage local predators to eat the coccid and the use of chemicals.
The insect invader differs from its caffeinated counterpart, the Coffee Berry Borer beetle in that it does not impact the quality of a macadamia nut harvest. The coccid leaches water and nutrients out of mac nut trees, slowly diminishing their output over time.
But there is hope, according to Cho. Researchers and farmers are seeking regulatory approval to introduce some natural predators of the Macadamia Felted Coccid to Hawaii from its native Australia. Parasitoid insects, which lethally lay their eggs in hosts like the Felted Coccid, are one option.
Even using natural solutions, the costs of controlling invasive pests are high. That’s true across the spectrum of agriculture, which Cho says is always under threat from some new invader or blight.
“There’s always a threat to all of agriculture. Any new pest or disease or change in availability of product could threaten industries.”
Like leis and pineapple, the macadamia nut is something that you associate with Hawaii. In fact, the nut is so identified with America’s 51 st state that it is hard to believe that macadamias actually originated from Australia.
Aborigines from Down Under have been enjoying macadamias for thousands of years. European researchers learned about the nut early in the 19 th century but it was only in 1857 when Scottish-Australian chemist, John Macadam, took time to conduct research studies on the nut. In it is his honor that the macadamia nut is named. The first macadamia tree was planted in Hawaii in 1882. The fertile volcanic soil and warm climate provided the ideal conditions for the trees to thrive. Today, Hawaii is the world’s largest producer of macadamia nuts.
In addition to how the macadamia became a Hawaiian symbol, there are other remarkable details about the nut that is worth taking note of: