Smaller harvest adds to woes of macca growers
MACADAMIA farmer Lionel Phelps will harvest his last nuts today, in what has been his earliest-ever finish to a harvest.
Cut short by months, this season is expected to yield a much smaller harvest to growers who are already struggling with low prices and the aftermath of the drought.
Mr Phelps, a former chancellor of Southern Cross University, has 1200 trees on his McLeans Ridges property and regards himself as a 'small-time' grower.
Ten years ago, he delivered nuts to the processors up to the end of August and into September.
Now, only into early July, he has finished all machinery harvesting and is completing the last of the hand-picking.
Mr Phelps said the effect of the early season wind-up would be a smaller harvest.
“We're in a more fortunate position than the larger growers. If I was having to pay for labour or paying off a capital investment I'd be in a very serious position,” Mr Phelps said.
It has been a tough four years for growers. Drought and a rising Australia dollar have driven nut prices down.
Mr Phelps described the past four years as the most difficult in the 20 years he had been in the industry.
“We're only going to get a little over 50 per cent of what I would have liked for our yield,” he said.
“We've had early flowering occurring, and one wonders what it means for the next season.”
But in one good sign for next year's crop, the long-lasting effects of the drought are beginning to ease.
“For the first time in five years we're starting to see some sub-soil moisture,” Mr Phelps said.
Some macca varieties were yet to drop, according to Australian Macadamia Society board member Morag Page. However, overall it had been an early - and short - season.
Ms Page said quality was also down because of the lack of sunlight before Christmas, when the nuts were maturing.
But there were some advantages to a smaller harvest, she said.
“The indicative price this year is going to be much higher,” Ms Page said. “There's going to be a demand from processors because there is not as much nut kernel around.”