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They rely on intuition and experience but know when to seek advice and hire experts to handle the multiple aspects of farming. From drawing up a business plan, finding land and getting financed, to marketing your products and partnering with the right processor, farming isn’t all watching plants grow. It’s growing a business. 

In South Africa, there is no better business than macadamia farming. South Africa is currently one of the biggest producers of macadamia nuts globally with 19 500 hectares across Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal producing over 50 000 tonnes per year. As one of South Africa’s most profitable crops, macadamias can rake in about R375 000 per hectare given that 95% are exported to China, Europe, Canada and the US.

Many local banana and tobacco farmers are capitalising on the booming global market opportunities and plant fat diet trends. To meet the growing demand, 7,5 million trees were planted in 2016 and 2 000 hectares are added every year. But macadamia farming is not an overnight job. It is a 24/7 operation of patience, intuition and a fair bit of business acumen.

Macadamia saplings can take up to 18 months before they are ready to be planted after which the first crop can only be expected in four to five years. In the interim, farmers must keep track of everything from climate, soil and planting requirements to fertilisation, pest control, harvesting and storage.

“This industry takes grit, determination and hard work, but you’ll never regret it”, says Alan Sutton, Valley Macadamia Group chairman and macadamia farmer. “We’re seeing a global market growth of 33% per year and an insatiable market makes for attractive prices.”

Macadamia farming in a nutshell
Most soil types are suitable for macadamia farming but must be drained and free from restrictive layers in the first meter of soil. Macadamia cultivars have different growth patterns and have specific planting and fertilisation guidelines to ensure optimum growth.

Macadamias flourish between 16 and 25°C and nut quality is superior when grown at an altitude of 600m or lower. The bulk of the crop is usually collected from March to July and only nuts that have fallen to the ground must be collected at least once a week to avoid quality loss and damage.

It costs about R100 000 per hectare to establish a macadamia orchard but crops are generally easy to deal with. Labour requirements are low and pests are limited and easily manageable. Getting your yield from farm to fork requires substantial technical, managerial, marketing and negotiation skills. Sustainable farming requires foresight and collaboration with seasoned farmers, processors and exporters to guarantee supply and quality consistency.

Choosing the right processor
Meeting international standards are vital to the success and longevity of macadamia farming. Processors must implement quality checks every step of the way and ensure the highest BRC and HACCP standards. A strict grading criteria and quality guarantee will continue to open doors to international markets and have a positive impact on price.

With only 10 green fingers and 24 hours in a day, macadamia farmers need access to ongoing advice, shared knowledge and farming trends. Partner with a processor that knows how to address local farming and international market challenges with comprehensive market intelligence.

To deliver on superior quality and food safety requirements, processors have to invest in world-class processes and equipment. Make sure your processor and exporter is committed to quality checks every step of the way, from sorting, grading and drying, to packaging, labelling and export preparation.

The significant upfront investment can leave macadamia farmers cash-strapped. Ensure that the processor you partner with offers fast payment terms and consistently achieves the highest returns irrespective of market conditions.

Farming is first and foremost a business and macadamia farmers mean business. With a shared passion for superior quality and the continued support of every role player, farmers and the South African macadamia industry as a whole will continue to grow in global market share.