Suncoast Gold Bundy Farm Tour Feb 2021

Over 60 macadamia growers, consultants and service providers joined a busy tour of macadamia sites across the Bundaberg region on the 11thof Feb 2021 which was run by the Grower Services Team at Suncoast Gold Macadamias.

The day started out at Geoff and Narelle Chivers’ farm at Welcome Creek with a market update from Brian Loader, the CEO of Green and Gold Macadamias.  Brian commented on the status of the world macadamia market, the global constraints including Covid-19 and how the Australian crop will fit into the overall picture this season.  While demand from customers for macadamia kernel is strong, Brian urged growers to take note of the Australian/US exchange rate leading up to the NIS contracting period as this is expected to be a factor that will affect pricing for farm gate NIS and also kernel.

Geoff and Narelle Chivers first planted macadamias at Welcome Creek in 1989 and after operating with modest harvesting and sorting gear for many years, they recently upgraded their systems to be able to process more crop faster with less labour.  Now that the farm uses tree shaking the Monchiero harvester and sorting line from Keba Engineering can handle the increased volume of Nut in Husk which comes to the shed with a large volume of leaf matter and large sticks.  The gravity table, drag tyre dehusker and custom air cleaner make short work of the product leaving only a small amount of black nut to be removed by a single sorter, achieving a throughput of 2-3 t per hour of NIS to silo.

Geoff is the Chairman of the board at Suncoast Gold Macadamias and was pleased to announce on the day that due to good business performance SGM would again be paying Shareholder Bonus of $0.20/ kg on the 2020 crop for qualifying shareholders.  The performance was accredited to greater than expected intake of NIS for the season, increased efficiency through the factory, and strong sales meaning SGM had minimal carryover of kernel from the 2020 season going into 2021.

The group then visited the farm of Graeme and Maree Dahl at Bucca where close to 30,000 trees have now been planted into virgin soils cleared since they purchased the 97 ha property in August 2018. Varieties planted included A203, 741, MCT1, A16, Daddow and a small number of the new varieties P, G and R, all planted on 9 x 3.5m spacings, mounded to 400mm.   Nursery stock for the farm was sourced from Marco Prenzel, Australian Macadamia Nursery, Gympie and from Bauple Mountain Macadamias at Childers.  The quality of the trees was exceptional and there had been close to 100% survival at planting despite the harsh conditions.   The oldest trees are now 10 months and are thriving.  Graeme attributed this success to preparation and attention to detail with everything needing to line up so there were no delays at planting.  The farm has access to 400 ML of water and irrigates 3 times per week through trickle irrigation.  A fertigation unit will be installed soon so help implement a uniform and targeted nutrition program.

The next stop was to the Kinagin Farm at Bucca where a macadamia plantation development growing their own nursery trees from seed have developed some inventive solutions.  A special pot made from a non-woven geofabric is designed to allow free root growth and allows air pruning and also prevents circular or J-shaped roots from forming.  The pot can be planted directly into the ground minimising transplant shock and drying out of the root zone during mechanical planting.   The method proved successful when watering was delayed due to an irrigation breakdown in a newly planted field and no trees were lost.   The Kinagin farm have had excess trees due much higher success rates in the nursery and have been selling them via their Facebook page to local growers.  Growers on the tour were keen to know what varieties were in demand and we learned that Beaumont rootstock is increasingly being demanded for new plantations after local trials at Bryce and Suzanne Flemings farm have shown a 20% increase in productivity of Beaumont rootstock compared to H2 across different varieties and soil types.  Although, sourcing good quantities of quality Beaumont seed remains a limiting factor.

The tour came to its final destination at Redrock Macadamias near Bargara where Paul Hibbert and on-site agronomist Tate Parberry gave a rundown of the trial work being conducted.    Janus Erasmus from GridFarm spoke about the work he does in nutrient mapping giving growers access to detailed maps showing variations in soils which can give insights into tree health issues and variations in yield typically seen across blocks.  Once the differences are known, this helps to eliminate the unknowns in the production system and then actions can be made such as variable rate fertiliser applications to correct soil imbalances in particular areas of the block.  The cost for the mapping and interpretation is approcimatly $135/ha and data can be fed into on-farm software and used in a broader data set.

Yoav Yichie from Aerobotics introduced their system which uses multi-spectral imagery and data analytics to assist growers to monitor and track tree stress and tree health at the farm, block and individual tree level.  The annual orchard monitoring program starts at $45/ha/year for annual drone imagery which is updated and overlayed by regular satellite imagery and come with a full pest and disease scouting platform for on-farm data input layers to monitor hotspots and identify priorities.   The citrus industry has used the technology for real-time yield estimation and allows farmers to make decisions for finishing and marketing their crop

Dr Deepak Mathur from Agrichem explained what many growers are starting to understand, that ‘Calcium is the key’ and a major driver of successful macadamia production.   Agrichem are trialling the effect of plant auxins and how soil and leaf-applied products can increase the cytoplasmic resistance in the tree, increasing calcium uptake and improving production.

Dr Dan Manson, was involved in setting up the sap flow and soil moisture monitoring part of the trial with Rimik.  The system measures tree sap flow every 10 minutes and this helps to begin understanding the daily rhythm of the tree and how it behaves according to the environment.   Once baseline data is established, environmental triggers such as heat, humidity or water stress can be monitored which cause the tree to ‘shut down’ and stop producing sugars or photosynthesising.   Then action can be taken to mitigate those stress triggers such as changes to irrigation scheduling.

The system of data monitoring from both the soil and the tree can measure responses to different management practices such as irrigation, canopy management or root disturbance by picking up slight changes in tree stress.  Contact your local irrigation supplier for information on installation of sapflow and soil moisture meters.

Finally, Jamin Fleming from Oztech Drones bought along his spray drone which has been used in the trial.  The drones are programmed with a pre-set flight path so are fully automated rather than being flown or piloted by an operator. Spray infiltration into the canopy has been checked to ensure the drone can achieve good coverage.  The current trial is testing nutrition and stress mitigation products only such as seaweed and nutrient based formulations. While Oztech can have one person operating five autonomous drones, unfortunately the high water rates needed for orchard application means that drone spraying is not a commercial option yet but is proving useful for trial work. The activity is classed as aerial application, so label for crop protection products will need to be reviewed prior to any use with a drone in the future.

Another project for Oztech is a newly imported fleet of autonomous ground robots which are the size of a quad bike. Future use could include towing a fertiliser spreader or using with green-eye technology for selective weed control in the mid-row.

Paul Hibbert, Suncoast Gold Macadamia’s Grower Liaison Officer based in Bundaberg, noted the great collaboration between all parties involved in the Stress Mitigation Trial which aims to push the boundaries of current knowledge in the space and identify paths for future management methods, technology innovation and product development in macadamias.

Suncoast Gold Macadamias wishes to thank shareholders and growers Geoff and Narelle Chivers, Graham and Maree Dahl, Jason and Fiona Klotz (Red Rock Macadamias) and Sheng, Greg and Troy from Kinagin Farms as well as all participating growers, contractors and services providers for their involvement in this event.