Holistic approach reaps golden rewards 

Macadamias are the jewel of the nut family. A golden orb of buttery, delicious nutrients that can be enjoyed as a snack on its own, in salads and cooking or even covered in chocolate. What’s not to love? 

50,000 tonnes of the tree nut are harvested across the country every year, and macadamias are the only Australian native food to have been developed and traded internationally as a commercial food product.  

Henrik Christiansen is the owner and Managing Director of MacField Farms, a company that jointly owns Fitzroy River Plantation; a sprawling macadamia farm on the banks of the Fitzroy River, northwest of Rockhampton. The company is paving the way to ensure a more sustainable future of intensive agriculture. After securing the farm four years ago, Henrik says they are committed to a holistic approach to farm management to ensure MacField is not only producing top quality nuts but playing an active role in improving the longevity of the reef.  

“Soil health is at the heart of what we do,” he says.  

“We consider it as a key asset to the business and have worked hard to improve the soil on our farm, which is paying dividends.”  

Henrik says they have adopted a three-tier agronomic approach, consisting of a soil health program, a tree growing program and a crop production program. A key component to the soil health program is the compost applied, which originates from on-farm and off-farm sources.  

“A key ingredient to improving soil structure for us has been the introduction of organic matter into the program. We’ve been using compost, microbe feeds and ensuring mulch levels are kept high at certain times of the year,” Henrik said. 

The company has managed to improve water infiltration rates and the moisture holding capacity of the soil, therefore nurturing trees for longer periods of time and helping to improve the quality of the macadamia crop. With over 330 hectares of trees under irrigation, the Fitzroy River Plantation has enjoyed year on year improvements of its harvests, citing the soil health initiative as a key component of the success.  

“Our approach is paying off. It’s really starting to ramp up now that the trees are in a good spot and the orchard is quite different compared to four years ago,” says Henrik.  

Having witnessed so many benefits with a few tweaks to their production systems Henrik said it was a natural progression to benchmark themselves using initiatives such as the Hort360 Reef Certification. The certification is a key component of the Hort360 Great Barrier Reef Best Management Practice (BMP) program and aims to support a broadscale shift to best management practices in terms of the way soil, pesticides and nutrients are managed and impact the reef’s water quality.  

Henrik is encouraged by the number of growers signing up to the program and giving credibility to the certification system. Collectively participants in the Hort360 program manage over 1000 Australian farms covering 80,000 hectares of land. 

“At the moment it’s a health check where we’re at and putting our practices against a third-party certification. We’ve set the farm up to run as what we think is the correct way, which results in a minimal to no impact on the reef, and that seems to be the case,” he said.  

“From a nutrition point of view, our approach is ‘less, more often’. We don’t have a high load of nutrients out in the orchard at any one time, so if we do have a runoff event, then it’s not a major issue. We try to keep reasonable interrow grass levels throughout the year as much as possible which also helps to slow runoff.” 

While the certification process is currently voluntary, it paves the way for less dramatic changes once regulation becomes law. And that’s where, like any industry, it gets messy as producers’ mindsets can vary dramatically.  

“I think there’s definitely areas where you need to give feedback to the regulators and say what is and isn’t practical. But in the actual outcome or the reasoning or the initiative, we don’t question that. At some stage we have to be accountable for our impact on the reef. And it’s just, how do we minimise it to a point where it’s acceptable?” says Henrik.  

“That’s the reasoning to why we jumped onto Reef Certification and are being proactive and getting ahead of the changes in regulation that will come. Not wanting to negatively impact on the environment and community are also a core part of our business values.”  

Australia is one of the world’s major producers of macadamias with the crop now worth $280 million annually. The global commodity is taking a holistic approach to its long-term sustainability. 

“I think we are quite a proactive industry. And instead of burying our head in the sand saying, ‘well, it’s all too hard or the government shouldn’t be doing all this’, we say ‘let’s understand it and let’s get ourselves into a position that when the regulation increases and all that comes into law, we are prepared and ready for it’. There are already some regulatory changes starting this year,” Henrik says.  

“At the end of the day we are putting ourselves in the best possible position to deal with future changes in regulations, minimising our impact on the reef and putting ourselves in a position to be a sustainable business.” 

 

Written by Jayne Cuddihy
Photography contributed by MacField Farms

McField Farms is featured in the July/August 2021 edition of Fruit and Vegetable News.