Chris and Janeen Harte were originally cane farmers in the Alloway district of Bundaberg. In 2007 they made the decision to sell off 120 Ha of their land, keeping hold of their remaining 20Ha to plant with macadamia trees. The Harte’s opted to plant 4 varieties- 741, A203, 842 and 816. The 816 variety was planted because of the high kernel recovery but has proved to be the most challenging of trees to grow. Most orchardists in the Bundaberg area would agree due to their smaller unstable root system that is prone to disease. The trees are sensitive to both dry and wet conditions- anyone familiar with Bundaberg’s growing conditions would know that it is usually that, too dry or too wet! The other varieties are fairly consistent, with the A203s giving the best return but they may have an unfair advantage as they are on the best soil on the farm.
Nine Years supplying SGM – now becoming a shareholder
The Hartes are one of a number of long term suppliers that have invested in SGM in 2020 after purchasing shares from retired growers. The Harte’s business ethic has always been one of loyalty to their business partners as long as the related businesses are seen to be doing the right thing for them. This has been the case with Suncoast Gold Macadamias, who were able to give initial advice on orchard establishment and have worked closely together over the years to maintain a healthy supply of NIS to the factory.
Why become a shareholder?
When Chris was asked why they had decided to finally become shareholders, he replied that there was a variety of reasons that attracted them to becoming part of the cooperative.
“we worked out that We could be rewarded for loyalty by purchasing shares in the company. The generous bonuses that had recently been paid would soon repay the initial investment with the potential to enhance OUR bottom line for years to come.”
Access to information via Grower Services – Chris has always welcomed the advice and resources offered to them by the SGM Grower Services team and the ability to discuss potential improvements and technologies.
Networking – The opportunity to interact with experienced orchardists running various scales of farms at SGM functions and field days has been particularly useful in their business model which Chris modestly describes as ‘still learning’. He welcomes the interactions with other shareholders and suppliers who are open to share their own experiences and successes with the group.
Being part of a Co-operative – As a part owner of Suncoast Gold Macadamias, they can now have a bit more insight into how the cooperative works and have the potential to have a say in its future direction.
Support an Australian Company – Suncoast Gold Macadamias is 100% Australian owned by growers and the Harte’s are proud to be a part of an company that are producing value added products and employing local people.
Secure future NIS sales – Whilst being quietly confident about the future of the macadamia industry, Chris and Janeen are aware that a quick growing supply of NIS could have repercussions in the medium and long term. By aligning themselves more closely with a respected, established, Australian owned processor, they are also securing their market prospects for the future.
Investing in Farm Improvements
The Hartes are making the most of the current high NIS price and government tax incentives to invest in things that will help to grow their productivity into the future.
Harvester – This season the farm invested in a Monchiero harvester. Whilst not particularly disappointed in the finger wheel harvester that has been used under the trees over the last few years, Chris decided to switch to the sweeper harvester because of the increased efficiency of operation and time saving capabilities.
The new harvester has allowed them to do less rounds of harvesting and has decreased the percentage of nut left behind. This will allow for more time to concentrate on other farm operations and improvements and maybe a little more valuable time with the beautiful grandkids!
Sorting Line – The sorting line also had a bit of a revamp this season with the addition of a scaled down version of the Dichwe air-sorter that is used in the Suncoast Gold factory. Chris was happy to receive advice from Jeremy Brown, from SGM, a local expert on the Dichwe, and after speaking to growers in the Suncoast Gold network who had already made the improvements, was easily able to make the decision to install. The upgrade will improve the efficiency of sorting in the shed and help to deal with the increased volume coming to the shed from the new Monchiero.
Irrigation- system and technique – Improving the irrigation was one of the most significant enhancements to the farming operation in the off season and it has definitely reaped the most rewards. The 2019 harvest was not a good one for the farm, the hot, dry conditions saw a visible deterioration in tree health and impacted the yield dramatically. Chris had noticed that his dripper emissions were not uniform, pooling water in places and hard and dry in others. He set about the backbreaking task of attaching clips to the dripline and water distribution was improved dramatically. There was now a wetted strip under and between all trees in the orchard and the trees responded positively.
Water allocation is limited at the farm and moving into the driest season on record, the Harte’s were under pressure to use the water that they had available to its best value. Watering times were reduced and became more frequent and this was the winning combination. The root zone wasn’t constantly drying out and getting saturated, but rather, a consistent moisture was maintained and the stress levels of the trees reduced. The response was more leaf and ultimately more nut. In one of the hardest seasons for a long time, they had managed to bring on a record yield for the farm, outstripping previous tonnages considerably.
This, in combination with a sound fertiliser program as well as lime, gypsum, calcium silicate and filter press have improved the trees significantly. The soil amendments are applied using a compost spreader, and this year the husk collected at the shed will also be spread under the tree. After some limited pruning, the profiler will go through the orchard and cover the base of the tree with organic-rich topsoil encouraging fibrous root growth, further strengthening the trees. The farm will then be well prepared for another bumper harvest in 2021.
Contributed by Paul Hibbert – Grower Services Officer Bundaberg