Pecan nut industry expects phenomenal growth in years ahead
The majority of pecans, which is North America's only native tree nut, are grown in northern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland. Not only are established growers expanding their orchards with new plantings, but the industry is also attracting farmers new to the crop.
APGA president Scott Clark, a grower from near Lismore on the NSW far north coast, said interest was so great he was fielding five to six inquiries a week. "We've got a couple of members now in the Riverland in South Australia and there's a great deal of interest in Western Australia at the moment with a lot of enquiries from people wanting to start up farms over there," he said.
"They are a very adaptable tree so if you've got a good water supply or rainfall they'll grow anywhere from South Australia to northern Queensland." The APGA has now employed an executive officer, Anne Briggs formerly with Northern Rivers Food, as part of efforts to promote the pecan, and its health benefits, to consumers. It is also working on a writing and publishing a pecan growers' guide, an industry first, to assist those getting started in the crop.
"We're collating all the Australian based information into the one document that we feel will be very helpful to anyone interested," Mr Clark said. "We identified the growers who were best at different aspects and their each writing a section, so it's going to be a whole industry approach and there will be case studies included there as well."
Australia's largest pecan grower expands with eyes on China
The country's largest pecan grower, Stahmann Farms, is increasing its plantings anticipating an increase in demand for the product from China. Currently at its Trawalla operation at Pallamallawa Moree, there are 800 hectares of trees in production, with another 200 hectares of young trees recently planted.
The expansion began two years ago and it is continuing into 2019. Trawalla's general manager Roelof Venter said the expansion would result in it producing up to 6,000 tonnes. "Maybe beyond, depending on the availability of soil and water," he said.
"There is definitely demand and within the pecan tree nut production, we can grow our annual crop substantially before we see a demand problem." Mr Roelof said there was room for more pecan farms, but there would be some challenges in growing Australian production going forward.
"Listening to people that are trying to come in, the availability of nursery trees will be one of the constraints," he said. "That is probably one of the bigger things holding expansion back but apart from that there is no reason why people can't expand."
Fears US-China trade war could cause pecan price to crash
By all reports 2018 was a cracker of a year for the Australian pecan industry with growers like Geoff and Debbie Bugden describing it as a "terrific crop". The couple have been farming 5,000 pecan trees on their property, The Big Pecan, at Boatharbour in the Eltham Valley near Lismore for more than 20 years.
While this year's price, at around $6.30 a kilogram, was back on the record prices of 2017, Mr Bugden is worried about what impact the US-China trade war could have on the 2019 price. "In Australia at the moment we can sell everything we grow but if America decides it wants to dump 20 million tonnes here, well prices are only going to go one way and that's down."
In July this year China increased its tariff on US pecans, and other goods, by 40 per cent, from seven to 47 per cent, in retaliation to the Trump administration imposing tariff levies on numerous Chinese imports.
"America exports millions of tonnes of pecans into China every year, At at this point in time China aren't buying any nuts from America which means that the American pecan nut farmers have got millions of tonnes of nuts to get rid of," he said. "They've got to dump them somewhere and Australia could be one of those destinations.
"I'm very concerned about that at the moment; when it comes to pricing America sets the global pecan nut price, prices have already come off in South Africa, Mexican prices are lower, pecans are a commodity and we do suffer global trends. "But as far as the Australian market goes pecan pricing is strong, but when America gets a cold you know Australia catches pneumonia."
Stahmann Farms' sales manager Andrew Waddell said if the US dumped pecans on the Australian market the effect would be short term. "Australia is a small player in the global pecan cropping industry [and] the effects are real and are coming home to roost or will do during 2019/2020," he said.
"There is talk of products needing to require new homes… if it can't go there [to china] or it gets slowed down in any way that product is still growing, so the US will be looking for alternative markets and Australia is clearly on their target list." He said it was likely all nut markets would be disrupted.
Despite the volatility, Mr Waddell believed now was the right time for the industry to expand, with global nut consumption still growing. "I think expansion now is a no-brainer domestically here," he said.
"The appetite will not be satisfied simply through trying to manipulate what's already been grown to higher pricing or into different markets." "The global nut consumption trend is a long term trend, it is well and truly established. "The lead time to get products from orchards is long, sometimes three or four years sometimes 10 or 12 years, but it's long and if you're not planting and developing your orchard assets now you're going to miss a long series of market expansion phases."
Source: ABC Rural